Obama asked what he could do for this country


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Get ready for the Phobamanon, folks. It's upon us, and it promises to be something few, if any, living Americans have ever seen.

Hope is rising from the ashes of resignation and bitterness, of broken promises and outright calumny. There's yet a long road to tread, but after Barack Obama's stunning, historic victory in the Iowa caucuses, fatigue and resignation is being shed like the last chill of a fading winter. More warmth is coming after Obama's likely victory in New Hampshire last night (after our deadline).

I'm not taking Obama on blind faith, nor should anyone else. I witnessed Obama in action before he became a national figure, witnessed a highly intelligent and deeply committed man dedicated to working to improve the lives of all Americans, not just the privileged and connected.

Showing up
On a bitterly cold November night in 2003, Obama arrived at LaFollette Park fieldhouse in North Austin on the West Side to address a meeting on proposed changes to the ownership and operation of West Suburban Hospital.

When he walked in that night, Obama was alone, a little known state senator and long-shot candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Looking drawn and weary, he apologized for being late, explaining that he'd come directly from a U.S. Senate primary debate.

There were maybe 15 people in the room, no television cameras, and just one reporter from a small local paper. Yet he showed up at the end of a 14-plus-hour day in his role as chairman of the State Senate Health Committee to offer his support to state Rep. Deborah Graham and state Sen. Dan Harmon, who were concerned over the ramifications of West Sub's acquisition by a larger religious hospital group.

Four months later, buoyant and definitely not alone, Obama stood on a brightly lit stage in a jammed downtown ballroom with the national and world media watching, celebrating a primary win that catapulted him from local to national figure.

The rest, as they say, is history - a history still unfolding, history that will likely sweep Obama onto the world stage.

John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were mentioned by numerous political commentators during post-election analysis Thursday night. Unlike Kennedy, last Thursday Obama didn't have to ask us not to ask what our country could do for us. He'd already done it by example. Obama long ago asked himself what he could do for America and took on jobs that had none of the perks attached to the position he now seeks. No limousines or private planes, no leather chairs on thickly carpeted floors. Just long, hard low-paid community organizing work out on the streets - work that Obama, with his Harvard law degree, didn't have to take on, work he nonetheless felt compelled to shoulder for the sake of others.

"Us," not "them"
Black America can be rightly proud at this moment. But this promises to be a victory for all America. Obama embraces both sides of what has until now been a frustratingly unbridgeable gulf in America. He is a man who, when he recalls his father, sees a proud and accomplished black man. And a man who, when he recalls his mother sees the loving eyes of a white woman.

When he looks at America, he doesn't see black and white, he sees "us."

Thursday night was a victory for those who truly care about America and all she stands for - or at least once stood for - and all she can once again represent.

Healing for those who care, not hate. Thought for those disposed to engage in it, not merely reaction. Resolve, not stubbornness. Hope, not unquestioned belief.

Possessed of a heart as large as his intellect, Obama is challenging us to think, to create and re-create. He challenges our expectations of what this country can be, and what we should expect of leadership. He challenges us to delve within for answers that may not conform to tired, worn-out templates that have outlived their usefulness.

On Feb. 5, Illinois voters will send their favorite son further along the path to the White House. Come November, America will hopefully celebrate its first black president, but more, we will celebrate once again having someone in the White House capable of realizing this country's full promise - a true patriot who will challenge us to once again ask what it is we can do for our country.

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