the cost of political capital


Attended a great Haiti benefit last night presented by the Global Syndicate, in partnership with a dozen other organizations, to benefit the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Yele Haiti, Project Medishare and others. Apparently they raised $125K before the event even started, which was great since there were no explicit instructions to donate at any point during the night.

GS was started by Bobby Kennedy III, also the emcee, and the evening had appearances by New York Governor David Paterson, Robert Kennedy Jr, assemblypeople (Hakeem Jeffries repping Fort Greene/Clinton Hill), and a few actor types (Anthony Mackie among them).

I've actually never been to an event with Gov Paterson before. He's quite charismatic in his own peculiar way--blind, though energetic, a powerful alpha male. Same day the earthquake hit his son was arrested for playing craps. In true Paterson form, he seems patently unfazed by it.

Even more interesting for me was being surrounded by all that political energy in the wake of Obama's State of the Union address. I purposely didn't watch it and, when my sister asked why, said I was tired of people "blowing smoke up my a*s." She was as shocked as I was that I said it, revealing some of my recent ambivalence/disillusionment with him.

She then berated me, asking what I was doing for healthcare reform and the economy (I thought, what can I do?), indicting people for electing the man and then leaving him to do all the hard work himself without support.

I thought about it the rest of the day, how to stay engaged with the political process, and I came to the conclusion that I'm not really political. I'm not an organizer or activist or lobbyist, not a political junkie. At my last job, working on a political documentary, I got tired of the daily back and forth between the right and left, the play by play of all the petty disagreements, the backroom dealings. I watched it all unfold like a literal movie, unwilling to accept that this is the way democracy really works.

As such, my main interest in Obama was not his politics (I was even a little suspect at the electoral hardball that got him the Illinois Senate seat). I was more interested in his messiah-like ability to inspire millions of people to greater levels of civic engagement.

In many ways his rhetoric echoed the liberation theology I imbibed as a youth (Howard Thurman, MLK, Gandhi, Sojourner Truth). And I thought Obama could mean really great things for America, for foreign policy, for the world. I even almost followed him, and I'm not a follower by nature.

Seeing the liberal/moral backsliding in the past year has left me feeling somewhat betrayed. Maybe I just need to get over it, but I can't help wishing he'd take the hardline for justice (on Gitmo and universal healthcare, among others). I think time will tell what his legacy is, but it's a little problematic that I've disengaged, though still aware, so soon.

I think the real cost of political capital is hope.

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