More on Obama
One of the more moving passages from Barack Obama’s speech follows:
If there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper—that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.
I love this kind of rhetoric (rhetoric to me is far from a perjorative) for several reasons: its parallel construction, its thoughtful Biblical allusion, its breadth and depth of thought and feeling.
Something about this segment seemed to echo well into the cobwebbed parts of my brain, from my US history class in high school. This idea, of someone else’s plight affecting one’s own situation, recalls the words of Eugene V. Debs, one of my favorite political figures from the late 19th and early 20th century:
While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Debs is a bit nuttier than Obama, but there is a rhetorical connection here, and probably an emotional one. Both wish to lift up the downtrodden, to speak up for the voiceless. May Obama’s career be brighter and longer than his rhetorical predecessor!