Monday, September 03, 2012
WHERE IS THE HOPE TALK?
I am hoping Obama will start talking about hope again when the American Democratic convention gets going this week. I am waiting for it, listening with a pricked ear for the mention of it in the mainstream media. To tell the truth, I’ve really missed hearing about hope lately. We’ve been hearing less about hope than we did four years ago. I am not party to any information that would explain the change. Did the advisers suggest that talking about hope would not be helpful? Is it because people sneered at the explicit mention of hope? Is Obama less hopeful than he was, given a four-year dose of reality? I listened for explicit talk of hope in last week’s coverage of the American Republican Convention. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear the word. I thought this peculiar, given how effective the hope talk proved in getting their opponent elected last time. I thought maybe they’d pick it up somehow. To be fair, if hope wasn’t explicitly mentioned, there was an implicit reference that might be perceived as hopeful. There was a lot of talk about “Getting America back on track”. The tug of nostalgia was employed as a forward force. Back, it seems to me, is the operative word here. It suggests that America was once on track, and then it wasn’t. It suggests that the future will be good once you go back to where you were. The fundamental difficulty with this, from the shared perspectives of both hope and reality, is that the track you want to go back to is the track that got you to where you are now—a place you don’t want to be. Who, having thought carefully about it, would really want to take that journey again? The thing I most like about explicit hope talk is that it seems to open up the question of how things can be different, and then requires an evaluation of just how you want things to be. But you can’t stop there. You have to look back to find evidence that things can change. The evidence gives you the motivation to do what you have to do. When hope talk shaped the rhetoric of Obama, he crafted stories that would give voters hope. The mention of hope compelled him to address two populations, the population who was served by the old track, and the population who was excluded. He managed to appeal to both, and they voted for him. Talking about hope is hard work. The easy part is thinking of things to hope for. The hard part is finding the reasons that legitimize the sense of hope. But the whole thing is worth the effort because when people hope, they are more apt to act. Even the most inspired president cannot run a country alone. Like the guide on a white water raft, a president can best steer the raft through the rapids when the people take up the direction and paddle together towards it. As a hope scholar, I like to be able to watch what happens when people make an effort to employ hope in any endeavour. Given how the campaign went four years ago, I had expected to hear more about it this time. I hope I will not be disappointed.