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No Monopoly on Hope

After Barack Obama’s victory last week, I wrote that “it is time to hope again.” Which prompted the reasonable question from some readers (including Brian Burke of Arlington, whose letter was published in The Post on Friday): What if John McCain had won? Would hope have had to wait?

I certainly don’t believe that Democrats have a monopoly on hope. As it happens, I think hope is essential to all of us. Last Christmas, I argued that hope “is an overused word and an underrated virtue” and that hope is “the precondition for reform, renewal and redemption.” Not to get too theological here, but I also think hope is the virtue on which faith and love depend, and I know Republicans care as much about faith and love as Democrats, independents and, as John McCain likes to add, libertarians and vegetarians.

But I do believe that some political candidates are better at appealing to our sense of hope than others.

Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most hopeful candidates in our history, and his declaration that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is quintessential expression of this. For a long time, Democrats had a better hold on hope than Republicans did, but Ronald Reagan came along and – if you’ll forgive me for putting it this way – stole hope from the party of Roosevelt to which he once belonged.

Reagan’s 1980 acceptance speech is one of the great pieces of hopeful oratory. Here’s one of its most memorable passages:

Everywhere we have met thousands of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans from all economic conditions and walks of life bound together in that community of shared values of family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom,” Reagan said. “They are concerned, yes, but they are not frightened. They are disturbed, but not dismayed. They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote -- during the darkest days of the American Revolution -- ‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again’.

I love hope, and even I'm not sure that we are capable of beginning the world over again. Still, it’s an attractive idea.

In this election, a key to Barack Obama’s victory was his emphasis on hope. (He would joke that his critics accused him of being a “hope monger.”) And John McCain’s campaign let that happen with its resolute emphasis on all the things we had to fear about Obama. I argued last month that the terms of this election were very much about hope versus fear and that the contest thus resembled the campaign of 1932 in which Roosevelt defeated Hoover. That doesn’t mean that I think McCain himself is devoid of hope. On the contrary, his remarkably thoughtful concession speech showed just the opposite. But his campaign failed to reflect the sunny spirit he showed that night, and he would have been better off if it had done so.

By E.J. Dionne  | November 10, 2008; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Reagan's empty-headed don't-worry message was a cynical attempt to shield voters from thinking about the issues of the day.

People can praise McCain's better moments, but during the campaign (as opposed to before or after), and especially in the Labor Day to Election Day general election campaign, he chose party over country, and so he got the defeat he deserved.

If Republicans ever want to make a difference at the national level, they need to stop defining "real" America as the backward corners that happen to agree with them. The non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual voters excluded by their rhetoric will never buy into their current intolerance, intransigence, and paranoia. Demographic changes, especially the growing Hispanic population, will wash over Republicans who survived the wave of 2008.

Posted by: lartfromabove | November 10, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I find it strangely ironic -- but unsurprising -- that the War on Terror caused America (through Bush) to embrace a rhetoric and mentality of fear, terror, mistrust, siege mentality, and "us versus them" polarization that we're going to need another 8 years to recover from. McCain's campaign introduced "fight" and "fear" to the War on Terror rhetoric. Obama asked us to change the subject: Hope. Appropriately, the agent of hope is now charged with conducting the war on terror. We'll see how much this war on words translates into reality.

Posted by: Hypatia3 | November 10, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

You know what Rhymin' Jesse said about hope:

"Hope, not Dope".

Know it. Learn it. Live it.
--Brad Hamilton

And anyway, Jesse is definitely opposed to this sort of thing:

Copy this for the link:

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | November 10, 2008 10:35 PM | Report abuse

I can't help reflecting back to the time when Dinkins was elected Mayor of New York. All the people were orgasmic. A whole new tone was set with people crying in the street and love was in the air even feces and BO seam to smell good. Gravity itself was on hold and the trees were blowing in the wind waving their approval. Willie Wonka appeared out of no where handing out Everlasting Gobstoppers And then.....and then.....and then Dinkin's liberal polices started to kick in and the city long known as the Big Apple became the Rotten Apple. Dinkins and ultra liberalism turned this place into a pigsty in four short years. A very dangerous pigsty to boot. Under Dinkins crime skyrocketed, cops became demoralized and business fled to the suburbs. Of course Giuliani came in to restore the city and bring businesses back. Taxachusettes another ultra liberal bastion has been losing people and businesses since 2000. Many there were wandering what's happening...ultra liberalism was killing that state.
Wow, how history could repeat itself with an empty suit ultra liberal like Obama.

Posted by: ekim53 | November 11, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I am so done with "HOPE" ... why not devote all the energy many individuals extended on this election on:

1) Improving your own education/skill set (can you pull yourself away from the tv for an hour a night)?
2) Identifying an unmet market need and delivering a product/service to meet that need (start a business)
3) Get to work!

Quit complaining, quit asking the government to 'save me'...where is the 'self-reliant' citizen today????

Posted by: jhpbriton | November 12, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I can't help but wonder what New York City ekim53 is referring to. The decline of NYC started in the 70's when Lindsay's "Fun City" administration deferred all infrastructure maintenance. There was a steady increase in crime from 1965 through 1990. In 1991 the crime rate started to decline. David Dinkins was mayor from 1990 through 1993. He came into office at the height of the crack epidemic. The city was already the most dangerous it had ever been. He was not the most effective mayor we ever had, but he took a dangerous "pigsty" and started to turn it around.
BTW, Giuliani became one of the most reviled mayors we ever had. 9/11 saved what was left of his reputation.
Why is it that so many of the right wing rants on this website are certifiably "fact free"?

Posted by: blbixler | November 12, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

"Wow, how history could repeat itself with an empty suit ultra liberal like Obama."

You forgot to include "Marxist" or "terrorist lover."

The hope that is attached to Obama has little to do with his being liberal. It has more to do with having a president who has leadership qualities based on the ability to think and analyze and offer pragmatic solutions to complex issues, something we haven't had for eight years and also didn't have with Reagan.

What we are going to get with Obama is not "ultra-liberalism", a label that has never fit him anyway, but a pragmatic leadership that will allow us to move beyond the kind of divisive political posturing the quote above represents. This is what George Bush has done - created this kind of extreme partisanship. We're tired of it. That's why we voted for Obama.

Posted by: jbrinkmeyer | November 12, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you.

Hope is not a strategy. Hope will not pay my bills, make me successful, slow climate change, or end wars.

However, hope motivates people much differently than fear. Hope motviates me to see the possiblities, to take risks and to grow. Fear motivates me to withdraw from the world and to avoid change. Hope helps me to be a "self reliant citizen" who sees a cup half full.

I would also say that people work hard, exploit opportunities, and better themselves because they have hope of improving there lot in life. Otherwise, why would we bother improving ourselves at all.

I don't necessarily believe that people are hopeful for the government to help them as much as they are for the government to stop having so many Homer Simpson "DOH!" moments.

I think the fact that so many people were so involved with the campaigns (both Democrat and Republican) is because they were that much more desparate for change than in previous elections.

So, while I think that hard work is crucial to improving ourselves, our community, our country and the world, I believe hope plays an equally important role in motivating us to "get to work."

So, while hope may not play a major role in how you face the world, it may be a very important source of motivation to others and drives them to do all the things you have listed in your post.


Posted by: desertdog1 | November 12, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Hope is a spark. I have read so much about this election year. After Barack Obama's victory, I read one article where an inner-city black woman was talking about getting started, not later, but now. She talked about bringing her kids in from the street corners, checking homework, getting involved in the schools -- not later, now. That's what hope sparks.

I have travelled and lived abroad. I read recently of the slums outside Paris where people are starting to aspire to something which now seems possible, to study harder, try to bridge to their white colleagues and neighbors, take more interest in the culture which has ignored them. That's what hope sparks.

And Africa... well. That continent has been the despair of all who have tried to help. It is so vast. The inertia is crushing. Now, here and there, I hear that charitable organizations, church missions and government aid groups are finding that the population is working with them, rather than digging in their heels, daring anyone to drag them kicking and sceaming to become part of the fearsome changes which can make like better. That, too, is the spark of hope.

It won't work for all, but maybe for enough, those seed people who sprout and grow, drawing in more and more people until there is a critical mass which changes a community.

Posted by: LeeTaylorEMT | November 13, 2008 2:17 AM | Report abuse

It should be noted that the only reason
that Messiah Barack The Wealth Spreader
Hussein Obama and Big Mouth Pompus Arse
Joe Biden got elected is their use of
ACORN and by committing massive Voter
Fraud! So just wait until the 23 State
Investigations of ACORN Voter Registration
Fraud Results in Indictments of Obama
and Biden and ACORN officials and Obama
and Biden and go to jail for it!

Posted by: Jan1977 | November 13, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Well, I live in the capital of Brazil, where I have taught English and done translation work, since 2001. I've watched as being an American became less and less desirable as the Bush administration wore-on. On the morning of the day after the election (at 6:30 am) I started receiving calls and text messages of congratulations from students. I live in a tough neiborhood here, and I wheeled around defensively when a man started yelling at me on our street- except that he was yelling "Obama! Obama!" and smiling and pumping his fist up and down. A friend bought a newpaper with the front page covered by Obama's photo and the giant words "O mundo sorri" (The world smiles), my brazilian wife was stopped in the street by a collector of aluminium cans, " Your husband is from the land of Obama, isn't he?"

that's hope

Posted by: interactidiomas | November 13, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Interactidiomas, see - that's inspiring. That's so nice to hear, and over and over people relay these stories of joy that overwhelms them.

That is hope, as you say. And none of the GOP whiners here or anywhere else can bring me down anymore; all I do is smile in return (yes, Jan1977, I smile at you, too).

Posted by: nagatuki | November 13, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Hope is not action. Action is action. Hope can inspire. But for many, hope is simply expecting someone else will make their lives better. In this case, they're waiting around for Obama to make magic happen. That's false hope.

Posted by: gardedgarton | November 13, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

McCain and Palin showed lots of hope. It's just you refused to describe it as such with your non-stop cheerleading for Obama.

Posted by: BettyM47 | November 13, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

John McCain would have ushered in a dramatic turn around in this country. He is an honorable man and he truly loves this country. The difference in governance from the Bush administration would be stark.

However, much of the government would remain unchanged. Dick Cheney would no longer be pulling strings, but the same power structure that put George Bush into office would be working behind the scenes. Most troubling, the basic tenets of "conservatism" would still hold sway when deciding policy.

It is what passes as "conservatism" which has created the deep hole we find ourselves in. Deregulation of the markets, imports, and drugs have ravaged the economy, the health of our people and pets, and the pocketbooks of our seniors. A misunderstanding of the need for government has created a tragedy out of Hurricane Katrina that need not have been. Brash foreign policy has blown minor flames into conflagrations of conflict.

The voters rejected conservatism when they voted for Barack Obama. They recognized that we need, at this moment, people in power who believe in the power of government to regulate, to lend a helping hand, to rebuild this country.

Posted by: fletc3her | November 15, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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