Monday, October 27, 2008

The candidacy of Barack Obama and the global economic crisis--a combination we've never before experienced

INSPIRED AND CHALLENGED. On one hand, I’ve been paying relatively close attention to the Presidential contest and, on another, to the national and global economic crisis. To me, both these evolving current events are historic and compelling—something never experienced in my lifetime. The potential for visionary, progressive national leadership embodied, incredibly, in the son of a white American woman and a Kenyan man inspires me. The challenge of responding to this economic crisis with significant course-correcting lifestyle and marketplace principles and practices challenges me.

SURPRISED BY HIS CHOICE TO RUN. Whether one is Democrat, Republican, or independent, the candidacy of Barack Obama is recognizably phenomenal. I’ve followed his story and efforts since he addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Here was a fresh perspective seeking new, high ground amid worn-out slogans and bitter divisions, I thought. His Call to Renewal address at Sojourners in 2006 revealed Obama’s authentic Christian commitment and reconciliation-focused perspective. I've researched enough to be confident that his faith and integrity goes well beyond his words. Hear Obama's conversion testimony in his own words here. His decision to run for President was a bit of a surprise to me, however. I thought he had what it takes to be a great President, but would the political system ruthlessly tarnish him, and were Americans ready to vote for him?

BREAKING NEW GROUND. Obama’s campaign has been fascinating to observe. It has broken new ground, demonstrated unrivaled ground-level and online organizational savvy, and drawn hundreds of thousands of disenchanted citizens into a hopeful engagement for the possibility of good government. Obama has certainly inspired from the podium. But he has also gained a good measure of respect and confidence with a steadiness and level-headed manner in interviews, debates, and in response to outlandish attacks. Twenty-one months of campaigning seems not to have tarnished him, but rather seasoned, disciplined and prepared him. And perhaps a majority of Americans who will go to the polls will cast their vote for who he is, what he represents, and what he promises. We’ll see.

PICKING A WAY THROUGH THE ECONOMIC DEBRIS. Interesting that the housing market collapse and subsequent and ongoing financial markets crisis would coincide with the last two months of the Presidential campaigns. It seems that economics is neither John McCain nor Barack Obama’s forte--McCain’s admittedly and Obama’s from sheer lack of experience. So, both have had to rely on economic advisers, daily pick their way through the falling market debris, and postulate a measured way forward that makes sense to citizens. Those who’ve paid attention to this part of the saga observe two strikingly different responses, both in substance and in manner.

IS IT JUST THE ECONOMY? Polls show that the economic challenge is the biggest concern for voters right now. They also indicate, across the board, substantially more people have confidence in Obama’s response to the economic challenges. I don’t know whether that’s based on gut-level perceptions or rational responses to real proposals. It will be interesting to see if that translates into how people vote next Tuesday. I’d like to think that folks won’t vote just on their perception of McCain or Obama’s economic proposals (or on the basis of 'what's in it just for me'), but on a wider range of personal assessments and leadership perceptions. Whoever wins the election, his campaign challenges pale in comparison to the travails that lie before him as President of the United States at a decisive moment in our nation’s history.

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