Monday, May 19, 2008

In defeat, an historic triumph!

In Defeat, an History Triumph.
By Arrianna Huffington.
May 19, 2008

A front page story in today's New York Times wonders whether Hillary Clinton's flagging run for the presidency is "a historic if incomplete triumph or a depressing reminder of why few [women] pursue high office in the first place."

Let me quickly weigh in with an unequivocal vote for "historic if incomplete triumph." And the only thing I find depressing is that the answer is even in doubt.

I have regularly criticized Clinton over the course of her campaign (and long before it, starting with her vote to authorize the war), but there is no question that she has forever altered the way women running for president will be viewed from here on out. In the words of the Times, Clinton has established "a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign -- raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her."

She has also forever demolished the question mark hovering over the issue many (wrongly, in my opinion) have felt would be a woman candidate's biggest weakness: the ability to be seen as a plausible commander-in-chief.

It is to her great credit that very shortly into the '08 race, when you saw Clinton on television, you didn't think, "Oh, there's the woman running for president." That is no small feat for a woman trying to break into a male-dominated arena. So the next time a woman -- or two or three -- runs for president, it won't be seen as a novelty act. Because Hillary certainly wasn't.

But the greatest triumph of Clinton's campaign -- a complete triumph -- is the example she has set for the next generation. And not just for young women; her dedication, perseverance, and indefatigable drive make her a role model for young men as well.

Much has been made of the generational divide in the Clinton-Obama battle, with older women rallying to Clinton and younger women drawn to Obama. But the impact of her candidacy transcends this division. I've seen this very clearly in the reaction of my oldest daughter.

She voted for the first time in this year's California primary, casting her ballot for Obama. Yet hardly a day passes without her speaking with admiration, almost awe, about Hillary Clinton -- how she manages to get up every morning, no matter how hard things get for her, and keep following her dream.

I've written a lot about fear and fearlessness, and how fearlessness is not the absence of fear -- it's the mastery of fear. It's all about getting up one more time than we fall down. Has any public figure embodied this more powerfully and compellingly than Hillary Clinton?

Last week I was in a hotel room in Las Vegas preparing to give a speech. Checking in for a political update, I turned on CNN and saw Wolf Blitzer interviewing Hillary. But instead of a debate on who is more electable in Appalachia, or a Talmudic discussion about Michigan and Florida, there was this incredibly human moment.

Blitzer asked Clinton about what it's been like having Chelsea on the trail campaigning with her. Clinton, choking up, replied: "Well, it's one of the most incredibly gratifying experiences of my life, as a person and as a mother. I get very emotional. She is an exceptional person, and she's worked so hard, and she's done such a good job that I'm just filled with pride every time I look at her."

And just as Hillary started tearing up, I realized I was too. This has been an election where, even more than usual, the personal and the political have been constantly overlapping. And my feelings as I watched that interview were no exception.

It was clear that the 17-month campaign had taken a toll on Clinton, but at the same time has been incredibly transformative. She famously announced after winning New Hampshire that she'd found her own voice. But, in fact, she has kept finding it and refinding it -- until now, finally, she seems to be more in touch with her own message, instead of the message Mark Penn's poll numbers told her to adopt.

And in doing so, she has redefined and taken over the Clinton brand. Forget welfare reform, free-trade uber alles, and third-way DLC-economics. Since hitting her stride in Ohio, Hillary has transformed the Clinton brand into one that represents working-class Americans. Because of this, she is the Clinton who will now be most relevant to the country's future.

I see Hillary returning to the Senate with a newfound sense of purpose -- and power. With the presidency no longer in her sights -- at least for now -- she could become a commanding progressive force in the Senate.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania in early April, Clinton compared herself to Philadelphia icon Rocky Balboa. "Let me tell you something," she said. "When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up."

The comparison was meant to reinforce her image as a tireless warrior -- but it was more accurate and prescient than she intended. Because Rocky actually lost his initial fight with Apollo Creed. After 15 punishing and bloody rounds, he was satisfied just to have gone the distance.

"Ain't gonna be no rematch," says Creed amidst the post-fight pandemonium. To which Rocky replies: "Don't want one."

Even though Rocky didn't win, he was ultimately seen as a triumphant figure. And that's how Hillary will be seen too. Once the disappointment fades and the cuts and bruises heal, the lasting impression will be one of glory, accomplishment, and profound impact.

Hers will have been a game-changing defeat.

Paschal: I wish Iwas up to going to Transy this p.m. to be present and cheer this outstanding woman. She has changed the scene for women, probably more in these times as anyne and certainly equivalent to Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of FDR..

Monday, May 05, 2008

Dreams from My Father, Senator Obama. A book review.

Dreams from My Father. A Story of Race and Inheritance. Barack Obama. (Hardback, Second edition, 2007, paperback, 2004.)
A Review by Paschal Baute, pastoral psychologist and storyteller.
May 6, 2008. V 3.4

As Senator Obama said this past week on NBC, "You know, here I am, an African-American named Barack Obama who's running for president. I mean, that’s a leap for folks. And I think it’s understandable that my political opponents would say, ‘You know, he’s different. He’s odd. He’s sort of unfamiliar. And what do we know about him?’'"

So who is Senator Barack Obama? Who is he as a man, What are his roots? How did he get to be the person he is? What has influenced him? How do we understand what makes him “tick,” that is, what are his values? Even if we have been following the campaign so far, he is still more an unknown than the other candidates.

His storytelling ability has seemed to follow almost exactly the prescription for success in leadership spelled out by Steve Denning in The Secret Language of Leadership. Well into an analysis of Senator Obama’s storyteling skills,, I decided I had better learn more about the man, who he is, and whence he comes? Therefore, here is a review of his autobiography. No comments here are intended as a political endorsement.

Dreams is the story of his awakening as a child of biracial parents, awaken ing of his differences, as a person of color, as someone who lived only on the stories of his father, to where he belonged, to what he wanted to do with his life. He undertakes an interior journey–a boy’s search for his father, and through that search some workable meaning for his life as a Black American

Dreams turned out to be a different book than what Senator Obama anticipated. A flood of memories, distance voices, longings challenged all his well ordered theories. He admits that he strongly resisted offering up his past life in this writing, “not because it is particularly painful or perverse but because it speaks to those aspects of myself that resist conscious choices and that–on the surface, at least, contradicts the world I now occupy.” Senator Obama has not tried to hide how differently he is, nor the difficulties in his search.

Dreams is a self-reflective journey of his early life, through his college experience and first job as a community organizer in South Chicago. Born in Hawaii of a Kansan mother and Kenyan father, he had very little contact with his father who left when he was two years of age. His mother remarried an Indonesian and they moved and lived there until he was six. Thereafter he was raised mostly by his mother’s parents. He saw his father only once again when he was ten years old. He grew up with many stories of his father, but only stories.

Senator Obamas explores his every step. AS a biracial youth he learned learned, almost belatedly that the cards would always be stacked against him because of the color of his skin. When he attends an upscale secondary school in Honolulu, he was one of only four blacks in the school. From there he went to Occidental College in Los Angelos, and then transferred to Columbia in New York City. He admits use of drugs and alcohol during his college years. The long last part of his story is his search in Kenya among relatives and differing stories of what his heritage from his father’s side of the family. His story concludes with his marriage to Michelle.

The landscapes he has traveled, roads and faces in Honolulu, Bali, Manhattan, Nairobi, and Chicago gave Senator Obama an unusual appreciation of the underlying struggle between diverse worlds, between ancient and modern, between worlds of want and words of plenty, “between those who embrace our teeming, colliding, irksome diversity, while still insisting on a set of values that bind us together, and those who would seek, under whatever flag, or slogan or sacred text, a certainly and simplification that justifies cruelty toward those not like us....” This is the thematic struggle Senator Obama sets forth in this book.

His search is an often painful yet, as he realizes his inner contrasts, his impractical idealism, his taste for earthly pleasures, he comes to terms with where he belongs and the meaning of his life. He is brutally honest with himself.

What strikes him most, when he thinks about the story of his family is a "running strain of innocence, an innocence that seems unimaginable even by the measure of childhood.” His white grandparents alnd the culture of Hawaii had protected him from racial stereotypes.

Annette Simmons is her workbook for discovering your own story, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, suggests that once one learns his or her own story, nay, fully embraces it in its various ups and downs, stages and phases, then is one more able to humanly connect, be fully present to the wonder, adventure, pain and grace of others’ stories. My own experience of some thirty years and 40,000 hours of listening as a family therapist and pastoral psychologist substantiates her view.

What stands out for this reader is how Mr. Obama learned leadership the hard way, through listening, repeatedly, intensely and personally. Beyond the immediacy of issues, he found stories full of wonder and terror “”studded with events that still haunted or inspired them. Sacred stories.” (P. 190) It was this realization that finally allowed Barack to break out of the isolation he brought to Chicago to share more of himself. As people listened to his stories they would not their heads, shrug or laugh, wondering how someone with my background would end up “countrified” spending winters in Chicago. “Then they would offer a story to match or confound mine, a knot to bind our experience together-a lost father, an adolescent brush with crime, a wandering heart, a moment of simple grace. As time went on, I found that these stories, taken together, had helped me bind my world together, they gave me the sense of place and purpose I’d been looking for. “ (p. 190)

We do not intend an indorsement of Obama’s political candidacy. An associate recently called him a “slick phony, –a product of the Chicago Democratic machine.” Certainly his sympathies are democratic. But I, for one, do not find anything he writes or says as “slick,” or “phony.”

One criticism: Senator Obama does not organize his thoughts, realizations, outcomes, conclusions. There is no where he says: “here is what outcomes I have arrived at so far.” His story is process only with whatever emerges as part of that particular phase of his life. One does not come to a strong sense of who he is, in a gathered way, or a summation of his learned values. The book would be more powerful if he had done so. An index of key words and concepts is needed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally I find his story refreshingly honest and fascinating, with no attempt to spin or slant. If you want to understand Mr. Obama and his views, what drives him and further, grasp some of the personal forces at work in the nominating process in which we are now engaged, this book is well recommended

P.S. My study of Obama's storytelling skills is extensive, almost complete and will be soon found on my blog Holy Amazement, Storytelling in Central Kentucky. Click on