In calling for a new American politics that sheds the spirit of extreme divisiveness, Obama harkened both King’s question and his own place in the pantheon of historical figures. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Barack Obama is one of the most unique and fascinating individuals America has ever known. And like, Dr. King, Obama finds value not as much in his accomplishments, but in how his efforts to tackle the thorny problems of the day reflect both on his own legacy and our nation’s character. Who we are, he believes, should ways be reflected in what we do.
What Obama represents will be left up to posterity to fully compute. But at a very minimum Obama represents the capacity of Americans to adapt to change, and to continually challenge the cynical assumptions and Machiavellian calculations that often define the territory of political power. Obama’s ideals bring into question what it really means to be powerful. Is power only about exerting superior force against an opposing object and causing it to yield? Or can power be about converting an enemy’s energy of hate into love and thus resolving an impasse in a way in which all sides benefit?