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August 17, 2008

Why Obama, by Daniel Spiro

Why Obama is a series of guest essays by musicians and authors, where they share their support for Democratic United States presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and offer arguments why he needs to be elected president of the United States.

Daniel Spiro is the author of Moses the Heretic, a new novel that tackles the subjects of contemporary politics, religion, and faith. He is a native of Bethesda, Maryland, where he currently lives with his wife, two daughters and two bichon frises. A graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard Law School, Mr. Spiro is a Senior Trial Counsel for the United States Department of Justice where he specializes in fighting health care fraud. He is also the Coordinator of the Washington Spinoza Society, a discussion group sponsored by the Goethe-Institute Washington. Mr. Spiro has published works on the role of religion in the public schools and the philosophy of education. In addition, he regularly blogs under the name “Empathic Rationalist,” which can be found on his website, His first novel, The Creed Room, was published by Aegis Press in 2006 to critical praise by numerous fellow authors.

In his own words, here is Daniel Spiro's Why Obama essay:

On July 27, 2004, the same day I turned 44, I sat in my mother’s living room mesmerized by the television set. It was showing the Democratic National Convention, and the nominee, John Kerry, had selected a young state senator from Illinois to give the keynote address. On that night, the speaker, Barack Obama, was introduced to the American public. Obama’s address, entitled “The Audacity of Hope,” positioned him as a mainstream progressive who, with good looks, a gifted flair for rhetoric, and a biracial background, would appear to represent the future of American politics. Still in his early 40s, he seemed years, perhaps even decades, from reaching the pinnacle of his power, but there was no question that the sky was the limit. This man, stated simply, was a natural.

Obama made many fans that night, but few could possibly have been more impressed than I was. That address, you see, came at a pivotal time in my life. I was in the editing stages of my first novel, The Creed Room, which is both a story and an exposition of my personal philosophy. Like all first time novelists, I was insecure about my prospects for publication, or for that matter, the quality of my work. That’s when I saw Obama speak. He seemed to personify just the type of statesman I had been calling for in that book. And that fact accomplished two things. First, it told me, once I saw the incredible reaction to the man, that my book was on to something. Second, it made me feel that The Creed Room wasn’t quite as original as I had thought. There was at least one man out there, I realized, who hardly needed to read the book. He instinctively understood everything I was saying and, unlike me, was in a position to make my vision a reality.

Consider the qualities Obama exemplifies. Merely by looking at the guy you can’t help but think of such as ideas as “melting pot” and “unity.” When you hear him speak, it is also apparent that this man is thoroughly grounded in spirituality. We may not like his pastors, but we have trouble denying his passion. Barack is also a former president of the Harvard Law Review, so he’s obviously intelligent. In fact, he exudes a mental capacity even more than intelligence: thoughtfulness. This guy is professorial without being didactic. He obviously loves to think things through, but he isn’t simply interested in his own thoughts; he wants to learn from others as well. And it is perhaps those qualities that give him such good judgment, including the judgment to buck the trend among ambitious politicians and reach the correct view on the critical issue of the last several years -- whether to support the Iraq War from its inception.

I know from the practice of law that some litigators trade above all else on their reputation for integrity, whereas others trade on different things – like their willingness to fight like hell for their client and never back down. Barack is in the former camp. For him, his reputation for ethical excellence is everything. As I watched Obama’s keynote address, I said to myself that this is a man who will think long and hard before he would get himself mixed up in a Watergate or a Monicagate.

We all know what a great orator Obama is, and how much he has been able to move people in America and abroad, including many who had grown apathetic about politicians. And yet what excites me the most about Obama isn’t merely his ability to inspire, but his ability to inspire something very specific: the hope that, just maybe, we can bridge the fundamental chasms that divide us so profoundly as human beings.

When I get into political discussions with Obama’s detractors, I sometimes hear the criticism that he is an “empty suit” or “lacks substance.” Presumably, people are referring to the fact that he hasn’t enunciated what two or three issues are most important to him and how precisely he hopes to tackle them, or what other issues are nearly as important to him and how precisely he hopes to tackle them as well.

Don’t you see why he hasn’t? Don’t you see why it would be unfortunate if we forced him to? Obama has been honest with us about who he is and why he’s running. He has written books about his checkered personal life. He has spoken about his cocaine use. He has even said, in reference to another drug, “Yes I inhaled. That was the point.” He has a record of votes that shows he’s a liberal and has mentioned various areas in which he’d like to implement reforms. He has also laid out a specific “plan” to address our inadequate health care system.

But the truth is that if you buy my vision for an Obama Presidency, you must know that he needs to remain flexible. Once he wins the election – assuming the nation wakes up before it’s too late, which is often a lousy assumption – he needs to take the temperature of the nation to determine which fundamental changes are ripe for the picking if only we had a modern-day Demosthenes to lead us in making them. Then, he can work to make these changes … one at a time … all the while remembering that it takes a large coalition of conservatives as well as liberals to wage wars, whether they involve killing people on the battlefield, stemming global warming, or alleviating the scourge of poverty.

I don’t want to lie to myself. Even assuming Obama can get elected, I don’t know if he can sufficiently unify this nation to form the type of critical mass needed to implement necessary changes. But this much I do know: without him, there’s not a lot of gas in our collective tank. And for those of us who call ourselves progressives, or who dare to call ourselves liberals, isn’t it worth taking a chance on someone who can at least use the word “hope” and pass the laugh test?

Daniel Spiro links:

the author's website

Barack Obama link:

Barack Obama presidential campaign website

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Why Obama essays
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews