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January 04, 2008

Just Another Citizen of Oz

I had read the descriptions the “rock star candidate,” “the tantalizing, highflying senator.” And I had seen him speak at the ’04 Democratic Convention, when he famously referred to himself as “a skinny guy with a funny name.” But the comparisons to Kennedy, that perfectly-maintained legend we barely knew, put me over the top. See, my dad, a Republican, told me that he met Jack Kennedy when he was running for President and that it was “magic.”

Ooh, magic. What I wouldn’t do for magic.

And so, when the invitation to a fundraising lunch for the one and only Barack Obama landed in my mailbox, I instantly coughed up more money than I spent on my wedding dress and booked a sitter.

The day finally came and just as I was finishing off my third bread stick, there he was.

He spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 15. I did not get the chills. I did not break into a sweat. I did not shout out in agreement. Barack Obama, it turns out, it just a man, a little older and a whole lot smarter than me, a man who values practicable solutions and incremental change. He has the self-possession of an elder statesman, a moniker generally reserved for retired or dead politicians. He is measured and astute and cerebral. He is (and this is not what I expected from a politician of any stripe) serene.

For days afterwards, I was, well, let down. I had wanted to be whipped up, swept away, lit on fire.

Nursing my disappointment, I found myself listening to the soundtrack from “Wicked,” a musical my daughters love about all their favorite characters from The Wizard of Oz. The CD was on Song 10: Wonderful, the moment in the show when the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is outted as a mere mortal, a nice and good man who had some skills and some potential but was not, alas, magic. He says: “Suddenly I'm here, respected, worshipped, even. Just because the folks in Oz needed someone to believe in. Wonderful! They called me Wonderful! so I said Wonderful, if you insist.”

Oh, but we do insist! Oh, how we need someone to believe in! Give us charisma! Genius! Virtue! But nobody too polished, or too inaccessible, or too formal. Why I do believe we’re just the sort of people to see a man come out of the clear blue sky and expect him to answer all our questions and solve all our problems.

And I think I know why. Not only does it make us feel safer, to have a superhuman on the premises, but it also allows us to go home. Personally, I want to go back to my kids, my husband and my novel--back to my regularly scheduled programming. I’d be delighted just to pay my taxes and have it all done for me: a Four Seasons government.

I know, I know. Democracy depends on active participation from the public. It starts, most obviously, with voting. I often feel, however, that I don’t know enough to vote. Even for president but definitely in local and state elections. I guess never forgot this quote from Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Consequently, I don’t always go to the polls. I can only admit this publicly because I know that I am in the majority.

I might vote more if someone told me who and what to support -- which bond measures and propositions and congressmen. It’s not a matter of apathy; it’s honesty. What do I know about how to resolve Iraq? Health care? Farm Subsidies? For that matter, what I do know about local issues, where it is said all politics truly reside, like seismic retrofitting, etc. As Kennedy himself said, “the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”

So if you’re someone who wants to elect someone you can trust, someone who is exponentially smarter than yourself, someone who is level-headed and methodical and absolutely devoted to the sane and rational course, I think I met your guy. If you want to swoon or faint, I recommend old Cary Grant movies. And if we are so fortunate to call Barack Obama "Mr. President," still, we’ll all have to show up to make the change everyone’s shouting about actually happen.