"There's a trick to being strong…"

During my vacation, I found some time to start reading an advance copy of Jeffrey Feldman’s upcoming book, Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation (And Win Elections). It is a great book that I hope anyone interested in politics spends some time reading.

We would do well to spend more time reading speeches of former leaders. The first speech analyzed is George Washington’s first inaugural address. He spoke about being called by “the voice of my country”. Feldman talks about the “humble servant” frame, of great leaders responding to a call by the country and a recognition that they it takes much more than just a great leader to solve our country’s problems, it takes the strength of the American people.

When my wife ran for State Representative in 2004, she reflected upon this theme in an address to the local Democratic Committee.

Perhaps I’ve been more involved than many people my age. I have always made it to the voting booth. However, other than voting, I never thought too much about my responsibility in the political process.

Then George W. Bush became president, and suddenly the America I grew up in seemed to be losing itself. A booming economy slowed to a trickle, and environmental legislation seemed to go backwards. September 11th happened, and then it seemed possible, for a brief moment, that we would come together as a nation and rally once more. We had the world’s sympathy and support. But that only lasted for a moment, and then we slipped even further into economic downturn and world isolation.

As I’ve watched the current presidential campaigns, I’ve wondered if anyone will embrace the humble servant frame. For the past forty years, our candidates have seemed to shun this frame. They have been caught up in the hero worship and the idea that if you vote for them, they will solve all our problems.

Gov. Dean challenged this idea by saying, “the biggest lie people like me tell people like you is that if you vote for me, I’ll solve all your problems. The truth is, you have the power.” Perhaps we, as a nation, are not at a place where we are ready to elect leaders that recognize and honor the power of the American people. I would have hoped that September 11th would have reminded us of that strength.

Yet as I’ve worked for campaigns and suggested that candidates admit that they don’t know everything and that they will need all the people around them working lend a hand, people looked at me as if I was nuts.

Perhaps I am, but I still have faith in the American People, in the empathy and compassion that made our country strong and has helped us through difficult times.

Today, we will see what sort of candidate one of the 2008 contenders is really is. Yesterday, John Edwards cancelled a campaign event to attend a doctor’s appointment with his wife Elizabeth. They will be having a news conference at noon, and ABC News is running with the headline Elizabeth Edwards' Health Could Halt Her Husband's Presidential Prospects.

Anyone who has helped a friend or family member fight something as devastating as cancer recognizes the wisdom that Elizabeth Edwards shared in her book Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers: "There's a trick to being strong," she wrote, "and the trick is that nobody does it alone."

While I hope that there are no new complications in Elizabeth’s health, I do hope John and Elizabeth use this as a moment to remind all of us in the strength of the American People when they offer and accept help from the people around us. I hope that we focus on much more than people posting blog posts and videos online and instead call everyone to help those around them, whether it be a large OneCorps organized events, or something as simple as bringing a casserole to a neighbor having a tough time. I hope that such actions help heal our country and move us closer to One America where we reach out not only to people like us, but to those who are different from ourselves.

Will Senator Edwards and his wife be able to return the leadership of our country to one that honors, listens to and recognizes the importance of relying on all the American people? I hope that will be the silver lining in the clouds of Elizabeth’s battle with cancer.

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We must "step up and not back" said John Edwards