Will Hope Trump Fear in 2008?

This is something of a breakout post for me. I don’t often write about politics here, and I’m not often comfortable allowing politics into my teaching.

In a similar way, I’ve been uncomfortable taking a dogmatic stance on the old PC versus Mac debate and I rather like calling myself non-denominational in that respect… and I’m quick to note that I use all three operating systems (meaning Windows, OS X, and Linux of course – and, yes, I know there are many more out there).

I also registered as a libertarian when I first registered to vote. (This is the political equivalent of using Linux I suppose.) Unfortunately, the party leadership (and literature) turned out to be embarrassing.

Through most of the nineties my espoused voting philosophy was to choose the candidate that would be the most entertaining, since that was the only benefit my peers and I seemed to receive from any politicians. In this respect, Ross Perot would’ve been great… and Clinton sure panned out.

At any rate, I have a feeling this may be changing for me. Over the last several months I’ve really been enjoying Senator Barack Obama’s podcasts… so much so that I just bought his audio books on iTunes, The Audacity of Hope (What an amazing title!) and Dreams of My Father (a much more personal book). Listening to him speak and hearing his story has been moving, and though I can’t articulate just yet how it has effected me beyond that, I have a sense that I am receiving an education as I listen (a rare thing for me these days).

At one point I actually emailed Obama’s office some feedback pointing out that his podcast did not allow comments (or two-way communication of any kind)… and I like to think his comment inviting listeners to email him at the end of his next podcast might have been a reaction to my feedback. At the very least, I’ve been happy to discover a politician who seems to “get it.”

Then, when he announced last Saturday his candidacy for president in the 2008 election, he also launched a new website and my feeling that he “gets it” quite soundly affirmed. It seems that John Pederson felt the same way: Hey Kids, Get Involved! Oh Wait… (Via pedersondesigns.)

Even Will Richardson noted how remarkably Web 2.0 (and Politics 2.0) the new site is: MyBarackObama.com (Via Weblogg-ed News: The Read/Write Web in the Classroom.)

Robert Rozema also noted it, and honed in on some of Obama’s education policy: My Barack Space: Social Networking Gets Useful (Via Secondary Worlds: Teaching, Technology, and English Language Arts.)

Though there were some bugs at the site on the first day, I signed up right away. There were already 3 people in the Orange County for Obama group. A few hours later, after the bugs were worked out, there were around a dozen. I’ve already gotten emails from the list-serv of members asking questions and others answering. All of a sudden it was immeasurably easier for me to actually “get involved” in politics, something I’ve never done before. I have no doubt this technology is working to Obama’s advantage. The election is a long way away, though, and I suspect he will not be the only one playing in this new space and connecting his supporters in this new way… and if he becomes just one of the many, then this is that much more exciting.

Meanwhile, I do think his campaign and his message are different. Actually, I suppose that “different” is his biggest strength as a relatively new politician. I especially appreciated this portion of an email I received from his campaign:

In announcing his candidacy, Senator Obama said this campaign can’t only be about him. He said, “It must be about us – it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams.”

Obama’s message of hope (and empathy – and a middle way) is contagious. Of course, as Henry Jenkins suggests at the end of The Only Thing We Have to Fear… (Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins), it seems that fear “always” trumps hope. This same dynamic is what drives DOPA and gets web 2.0 services blocked by IT departments in schools. But if Obama can offer and advocate a message of hope in American politics, we can certainly advocate for the same thing in education.

This will be interesting… he’s already taken flack for his policy on Iraq (though that might work in his favor according to recent polls) and there is a lot of time for opponents to attack his campaign… but this will be interesting, if for no other reason than this time I care.

UPDATE: It turns out this is what I was really driven to write about tonight. As usual there is much else I’ve read that I want to respond to and pass on, but the posts on the read/write web, Google, 1:1, and social change will have to wait… as will my second “Geek to Teach” post. Now, I’m off to bed. I have a plane to catch in the morning.

Won’t it be great when, oh, a year from now, I’ve finished my dissertation and learned not to over-commit to work even though I’m self-employed? I look forward to more discretionary writing time… that is, until kids. :)