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September 4, 2008

Why Obama, by Ben Sollee

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.

Ben Sollee is a singer-songwriter whose debut album, Learning to Bend, was released earlier this year.

In his own words, here is Ben Sollee's Why Obama essay:

I’ll be honest, I’ve had a hard time finding a cohesive expression that explains why I believe in Barack Obama, other than he is believable. In this observation, my intuition is my strongest guiding force. It proves itself daily when I hear people, that are rarely political conversationalist, talking through issues, and when I see Obama give speeches like the one he did at mile-high stadium. That was a stadium of 84,000 people absolutely spell-bound, commentators (a few with at least some acute historical perspective) choked for words, and Obama fighting for the presidency with no air of divisiveness; “…let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.” And even though all the signs read “CHANGE” it is the ideal of belief in change that Obama is instilling in us, and, consequently, we are distilling to the rest of America and the world.

Mainly, my progress on this essay has been restrained by a lack of clarity on policies. I dug in and tried matching up all my concerns with definitive words from Obama. But, I could not find such specific words. Instead, I found in Obama a character that was asking to be sculpted and equipped by the citizens of this nation. His energy policy may not be a detailed diagram of new power grids and renewable resources, but the architecture is constructive. Even though his education plan has no specific goals for music and arts programs in public schools, he addresses the bigger concern of improving our teachers and their work benefits. Though he approves the completion of this missile defense shield (a fictionally effective contraption), his diplomatic discourse is infinitely better than that of our current administration, and will hopefully overcome any threat of weapons or war. These may not be specific policies, but they are directions that we can influence and they lead me, again, to “believe” in him as my representative, but also as a leader.

People’s interest in Barack Obama has consumed the media. When his image consistently appears on the cover of Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, the front page of The New York Times, and flows freely in headline news it’s easy to see how some perceive, and propagate, Obama as a “celebrity.” Let’s think of some other celebrities (today’s top five articles from E!): Oprah (who does mention Obama), Michael Jackson (his big 50), David Duchovny (recovering from sex addiction), Lindsay Lohan, and Halle Berry. Even though Oprah may herself one day become President, I will not allow Obama to be lumped in to such a heap of nothing. This is our candidate for President of the United States! Any infatuation with him is most profoundly due his message, not his image. It is important for people to relate to their President, but he does not belong in the category of celebrity. What harm is there? If Obama is considered a star people may assume, like some kind of popularity contest, that he will win this election. NO! We have to get out and promote his message and get people to show up on election day.

Which brings me to one of the things I most admire about Barack Obama, his ability to motivate. In particular, motivation as it relates to the American public and their stewardship of government. In large part, I believe this ability is due to Obama’s propensity for honest dialogue. He speaks of “our sense of common purpose” as Americans. In the same regard, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the “spirit of compromise.” He makes no excuses for the government or us; “[the government] must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents, that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework, that fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children. Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility, that's the essence of America's promise.” These words are not just the “talents” of an eloquent speaker. They come from a man, like the doctor I encountered in Tibet, that relies on his power of observation and the pulse of the nation to provide not a cure, but a regiment of health. This mainly involves taking a predominant role in our government; “the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

As many have noted from my music, I am an optimist. I believe in the essential good of the human spirit, not the inherit evil. Some folks say I have rose-colored glasses, but I feel, as an artist, I’m truly a product of a diverse ethnic family; Sam Cooke, Phoebe Snow, Pete Seeger, Johannes Brahms, and so many others. Their art has profoundly touched my life. Barack Obama reflects even greater diversity as only America can produce. I believe in his direction as a leader and someone who unites people. And as Obama confessed, “this election has never been about me; it's about you.”

Ben Sollee links:

Ben Sollee's website
Ben Sollee's MySpace page

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