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The Poetics of Politics

Last year on the anniversary of hurricane Katrina I wrote about Martin Luther King and the content of our Nation’s character. In that post, I embedded a YouTube video of about Barack Obama because I heard in his voice an empowering rhythm and in his message the hope of new possibilities.

Listen, now, to his victory speech in Iowa last night:

In hearing him speak, I was struck by the power of his political poetics. The poetics of politics names something different from the manipulative rhetoric politics has always deployed for propagandistic purposes. Rather, the poetics of politics resonates with that in us capable of actualizing our best selves. Its rhythm and cadence opens us to new possibilities of community, quickens our passions, not with irrational enthusiasm, but for deliberate action intent on bringing our values in line with our lives.

The United States has been blessed with a wealth of political poets. Think of Jefferson’s “When in the course of human events …“, of Lincoln’s “Four score and seven years ago…“, of FDR’s “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself“, of JKF’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” or of King’s “I have a dream…

Obama’s “They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned …” does not yet rise to the level of these great poets, but only because the words mark a minor, albeit significant, victory. Even so, they give voice to the possibility that our highest ideals, when powerfully articulated, can give birth to transformative action.

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