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The power of the people

New Yorker editor David Remnick questions President Obama’s advice this week to the people of Israel:

Perhaps the most Obamian, and strangely overlooked, moment in the speech came when he cast doubt on the powers of politicians. This is a constant theme. Obama talks frequently about how early civil-rights leaders came to Franklin Roosevelt, asking him to take action, only to have F.D.R. reply, in essence, “make me.” Force my hand. Create a real movement.

“That’s where peace begins,” Obama said in his speech:

“Not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections, that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. And let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.”

“This suspicion of political power is worrying,” writes Remnick. However, I find this part of the speech suggestive.

Not to claim an equivalency to eastern European communism, but I wonder if Obama has come to believe that many governments have taken on enough of the frozen, self-serving traits Vaclav Havel described in his “Power of the Powerless” essay that substantial progress will now most likely come only when some good number of the people demand it.

See also LBJ wanting to get activist Fannie Lou Hamer off the TV when she made his party look bad during its national convention.

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