As I stood before Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah, and Maria Shriver at last Sunday’s Women for Obama rally, I was struck by the emotional strength of every point they made.
This campaign, Maria Shriver said, is really “about us, and what we can do when we come together.”
“The question in this race is not whether Barack is ready,” Michelle Obama agreed. “The question is, what are we ready for?”
“We have won the struggle,” Oprah said, “and we have the right to compete… free from the constraints of gender and race.”
“Each and every one of us can be an agent for change,” Caroline Kennedy told us, to which we, in our thousands, thundered back YES WE CAN!
Unity, Engagement, and Hope are the real watchwords of this campaign. They are also, in my opinion, key to our psychological and emotional health as individuals and as a nation. This is the real reason so many find Barack Obama’s candidacy so inspiring, but also why he is fighting a difficult battle.
The forces of fear are entrenched in this country, as evidenced by our epidemic rates of anxiety disorders, depression, substance addiction, eating and personality disorders. While the causes of these often intertwined conditions are enormously complex, most of them feed on fear -- of failure or shame, rejection or futility, loneliness, poverty, physical harm or death itself. Whatever its source, if persistent, pervasive, and unrelieved, fear is destabilizing.
That is why the exploitation of fear is such an effective political tool for those who wish to conquer by dividing us against each other and ourselves. Novelist Michael Chabon, in a Washington Post Op-Ed today, wrote eloquently of the resulting political anxiety disorder: “Fear tells us that ugliness, rage and brutality are the central facts of human existence, that decency and tolerance are luxuries on whose altar our enemies will be only too happy to sacrifice us.”
Fear, in other words, is the reason we will not trust, act, or come together even for our own good. For fear that we might fail or be disappointed, we dare not even hope. This is a recipe not just for apathy, but for despair.
Barack Obama dares us to recover from our national anxiety disorder. He reminds us that our health depends on our cultivating a sense of purpose, passion, connection, and trust. But we must not expect our candidate – or our President, for that matter -- to solve our problems for us, any more than we would expect our doctor to recover our mental health for us.
As Maria Shriver said Sunday, "WE are the change we've been waiting for."
Yes, we all hopefully answered back. We are.