Obama on Clinton and Citizen Engagement

President Obama’s convention address last night was a great speech, well delivered. I’m going to miss this guy. I was glad to see Obama the community organizer strongly present in the speech. He encouraged citizens to engage at all levels of community, to be active and vote at all levels of government. He even chided the loud boos at mention of Donald Trump: “Don’t boo. Vote.”

One of my favorite parts comes near the end. He frames Hillary Clinton’s decades of public service in terms of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote about “the man in the arena” who strives and struggles to accomplish great things despite mistakes, criticism, and setbacks.

“Hillary Clinton is that woman in the arena. …You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport. America isn’t about ‘yes he will.’ It’s about ‘yes we can!’ …Not ‘yes she can,’ not ‘yes I can’ — yes WE can.”

You may not agree with the politics of Hillary Clinton or of this speech, but it’s hard to argue with Obama’s emphasis on citizen engagement and participation. Because he’s right: one party, president, governor, county commissioner, or city council member isn’t the real source of change in America. They’re just the people’s designated agents.

It’s the will of large numbers of people — spoken loud and clear, acted on repeatedly and insistently — that actually makes things happen in a democratic nation. It’s neither easy nor fast. Frustratingly, infuriatingly, the culture and the political system itself make the work of change even harder and slower for some groups than others. But together we can shape the future to better serve all Americans. So let’s get to work.