I signed up for two of Obama’s “Listening to America” platform events. The first one was advertised as “Talk about Health Care.” I drove 30-odd miles during peak traffic hours just to find out that the meeting was canceled because no one confirmed their attendance. When showed the printed proof of my confirmation being received, the organizer did not want to talk about it. Apparently, the people behind this event were incompetent, irresponsible, or both.
I had better luck with the second event, which was a five-minute walk from my house. The organizer is a community activist, and she expected about 20 participants. Eight showed up, including myself. The atmosphere was great. So were the snacks. The event, planned for two hours, lasted four.
At the beginning of the meeting, the organizer, a beautiful woman, performed a dance to the R. Kelly song, “I Believe I Can Fly”. She did seem to be very nearly flying and I was impressed and entertained, though I am not an expert on dancing. Joy, hope, and a shared anticipation of extraordinary events dominated the first two hours. Upbeat speeches about Obama set the tone, though that was preaching to the choir. At one point, it sounded like an Amway meeting.
Eventually, the organizer moved on to the business of discussing Mr. Obama’s platform. One participant brought up racism. After some discussion of tolerance, the attendees settled on a desire to achieve equality in social and economic opportunities. They concluded that many evils of our society are caused by its failing schools. When the organizer asked if there were other issues people wanted to discuss, participants emphasized the importance of improving health care and protecting the environment.
While listening to that wishful list of postulates, I smiled. In Polish, “postulate” sounds almost exactly like “after a hundred years.” Really, we were discussing a rather generic desire that our lives would improve and we all would be happier. For me, it was tempered by the realization that the such broad systemic changes would be unlikely to occur, at least in our lifetimes.
So during the snack portion of the meeting (tacos provided by the organizer and fruits brought by guests, including white, red and black currants from my garden), I upset the organizer when, after praising the event as a social success, I said that we were just spinning our wheels.
That’s not to blame the organizer or the participants. The whole idea of “Listening to America” is silly. In all likelihood, all of the ideas are already floating around on the internet anyway. Haven’t Obama’s advisers collected and analyzed them by now? What are the odds that a new, brilliant insight will surface in a “Listening to America” meeting and float to the top? Obama might as well buy a lottery ticket.
The organizer didn’t overtly disagree. Rather, she explained to me that she realized that an important part of “Listening to America” was its role in bringing together Obama supporters. In other words, working up an emotional momentum that would help carry Obama to the White House. But what does that mean in terms of changing America for the better? It means shifting the campaign away from discussing the issues, and instead creating irrational expectations of Obama’s presidency. Who knows, we might even believe he can fly.
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post