The local newspaper’s headline this morning startled me. “Obama Tells Huge Crowd He Can Fix Broken Washington,” the front page banner declared. I listened to every word of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last night, and I do not remember hearing that. What I heard was a message about teamwork, about bringing people together and sharing ideas to address the urgent problems threatening America.
“This election is not about me,” Obama said. “It’s about you.” As I listened to Obama’s message of hope, the chorus of an old song by Bill Withers echoed in my head…
Just the two of us, we can make it if we try, just the two of us, building castles in the sky, just the two of us, you and I.
“John McCain doesn’t get it,” Obama said. And the reporter who thought he heard a boastful promise from Obama didn’t “get it,” either.
Obama knows he can’t “fix broken Washington.” No one human being can. What Obama can do is bring the right people together to make a positive difference in the way America is governed and the way Americans live. Obama’s most important gift is that he is a leader, someone people are willing to follow. More than 80,000 people followed him to the Mile High football stadium in Denver last night, and millions more will follow him to the polls in November. An impressive roster of public servants would follow him to Washington. The latest to join his team are the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, who fought him tooth and nail in the primaries but have pledged to support him heart and soul if he becomes America’s first African-American President. They joined a list of heavy hitters from Clinton’s Golden Age who earlier defected to Obama’s campaign. Then there’s Joe Biden. If Obama is the brains of the movement, Biden will be its heart.
A President Obama would have the most powerful team I can recall in my lifetime – a real “dream team.” He would have the Kennedy clan behind him, plus the passionate support of such pillars of the House as John Lewis (pictured above with Obama) and James Clyburn (pictured at right). Both are heroes of the civil rights movement. And he could take advantage of the counsel of such tough-minded newcomers to the Democratic Party as Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. He has Jesse Jackson’s son in his corner, standing next to multi-billionaire Warren Buffet. Republicans like Chuck Hagel and Ike’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower have rallied to the Obama cause. “This lifelong Republican will work to get him elected and encourage him to seek strategic solutions to meet America’s greatest challenges,” Eisenhower promised. “To be successful, our president will need bipartisan help.”
Not just bipartisan but pan-partisan (if there’s such a word). To “fix broken Washington,” he will have to bring together divergent views and sift through apparently contradictory proposals, seeking common ground on which to build a new America. I think he can do it. I think he can find common ground in the ideas of Robert Rubin (pictured far left) and Robert Reich (left), Will-i-am (of the Blackeyed Peas) and William Cohen, Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens, Bill Richardson and Susan Eisenhower, John Kerry and Tricia Moseley… You see, Obama doesn’t just think. He doesn’t just talk. He listens. He really listens. And he isn’t listening in order to find arguments to refute what he hears, he is listening to find that precious common ground. He respects the intelligence of others and values their opinions. And in this increasingly complicated and conflicted world, that’s a heck of an asset for a leader.