Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama should be more inspiration than answer

Watching people react to President Barack Obama is both inspiring and disturbing.

Our new president clearly has potential to bring a cease-fire to at least some the nation's culture wars so we can focus on the big picture, rally to be ready for the next generation of competition against India and China.

And as someone who has seen Obama's charisma in person I can report it is as radiant as televised.

During one interview with the Daily Times Herald it was heartening to hear that Obama himself finds the "American Idol" treatment, a bit over the top.

"There's been some places where people have grabbed us, and you couldn't get out of the place," Obama told me early in Iowa Caucuses campaigning, with a laugh. "Here (in Denison), I think, people were more measured, and I like that."

President Obama still seems to have perspective where his starpower is concerned. The rest of the nation needs a heaping helping of realism as well.

There is great promise with Obama.

But former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley has it exactly right when he says the true measure of Obama will be whether he can shine the spotlight back on all of us as individuals, to provoke us to make the small and large changes in our own lives that collectively might just turn the world for the better.

To be sure there are challenges before the nation demanding the bold strokes, the audacity if you will, of our young president, a leader with no shrinking violets in the fertile garden of his character. You and I can't pull the macroeconomic levers to move glacial indicators like interest rates and big bank lending or make a national transition from the hubris of Bush to humility and grace in our foreign dealings.

Americans indeed elected Obama to do the big things.

But in the end, Obama should be more inspiration, than answer, for so much of our lives is determined more by the small choices we make each day. Spend or save that $10? Watch the game or read to the kids? Even if economic stimulus money thunderstorms on Carroll, Iowa, funding imrpoved roads and perhaps even a new library, it is still primnarily up to the individual to improve his lot.

Some people clearly get this.

“When the man speaks and he’s done you just feel like you can go out and make something better,” Sarah (Jensen) Shomshor, a Kuemper Catholic High School graduate who was at the inauguration in Washington, tells us.

That's the healthy response -- to see Obama as a source of motivation for your own good works, self-improvement.

As Obama huddles with economic and foreign policy advisors in the frenetic early days of his presidency what is it that we are doing to make our own lives better?

Yes, the economy is roiling, but I've interviewed many people doing quite well, thank you. One Carroll native told me he's having the best year of his career. Some local retailers have reported strong months around the holidays. Even in these times, those with pluck can make a buck.

That said, we can look to Obama for inspiration that has long been missing from the White House.

And one can no doubt find it many ways. The beautifully diverse family Obama brings to the White House is a powerful source of inspiration as nearly 25 percent of white Americans and perhaps as much as half of African-American families are members of multi-racial families.

Then there's his curiousity.

By now we have all seen photos and reports of the younger Obama as a community organizer, a man with rolled-up shirt sleeves, working the streets. It was during those years that Obama also cut a solitary figure, holed up with the richness of books. He remains a voracious reader, still hungry for words, ideas. No matter our politics or pursuits, this is a powerful lesson we can take from the new president: leaders are readers.

I haven't met too many regular readers of books who are failures.

Christian talk-radio host Dave Ramsey, an honest broker where it comes to both faith and finance, is fond of saying that the difference between you today and you next year is the books you read and the people you meet. He's right.

Don't wait for Obama to change your life. Open some more books this year and do it yourself.

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