I have never been called to proselytize — on religion, or politics or much of anything. I firmly believe it is not my place to tell anyone else how to think or act or believe. So please consider this not an attempt to change anyone's mind or even to influence anyone's thinking, but rather, simply the act of recording the moment when I made up my own mind.
It is no small irony to me that Michelle Obama got in trouble for saying this very thing, but I am finally, truly, honestly feeling proud to be an American.
I have always loved parts of my country. I love its ideals, its ingenuity, its capacity for greatness, its propensity towards hope. But I will admit here and now that in my adult lifetime, I have never felt those good qualities embodied in a politician, a governing body or even much of a legislative act. The closest I have come was watching Rudy Giuliani leading people down the streets of New York — not because I think he is a great politician, but because in those few moments on that black day, I think he overcame the politician in him and was a leader. Too bad he had to go back and ruin that with politics.
I have never trusted a politician. I never knew a time when people were enamored of their leader. I'm too young to really remember much of Regan and not old enough to ever have experienced the passion Kennedy inspired. But I think I understand it now.
Up until last night, when asked, I was hard pressed to come up with a reason why I liked Obama so much. It was just a gut feeling. I wasn't ready to get involved, because I couldn't really speak to his position on the issues; the news reports I watched and the pundits I listened to made it seem as though, in reality, he wasn't that far off from Hillary Clinton or even John McCain on the details. It seemed silly to tell people he just felt right somehow, though I know in my heart that is how many of us decide who to vote for. I was careful when speaking about him to most people. I said I liked him because he was different, because he is a great speaker, because he represents a departure from the same old same old if only in the sound of his name and the color of his skin. Secretly, I just wanted to believe.
But now I can tell you why I think he is the right man for the job. Listening to him last night, I agreed with nearly everything he said. I agree with his energy policy. I agree that we need to talk to those who disagree with us, rather than simply bullying the world into doing what we want, but that we also need to be able to protect ourselves and our allies. I agree that taking care of those who cannot care for themselves is a government's function.
But more than any of those things, the part of his speech that had me on the edge of my seat was the part about personal responsibility. I actually shouted out loud when he started saying those things. I can't remember ever hearing a major national politician have the guts to say, yes, government is here to help you but you also have to help each other and yourselves.
Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.
That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.
And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.
Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that's the essence of America's promise.
THAT is what I agree with. I believe what he said. He has articulated for me the platform about our country I have been searching for. Individual and mutual responsibility is the ideal I have been trying to articulate, trying to find in my own life. It speaks to so many things that interest me from energy conservation to eating locally to participating in a community. For the first time in my life, I found myself wondering how I could get involved in this campaign, and further, how I could use my own gifts and serve.
That is why I am going to vote for Barack Obama. He makes me not only hope for a better America, he makes me want to be a better American.
Read or watch his full speech here.