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Sister Act & Barack Obama

When you live in New York you get these last minute opportunities which you often grab and sometimes quickly regret.

When my wife told me two days ago that she bought three tickets to the Barack Obama fundraiser production of Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act all I could think about was standing on line, going through security, and the nuisance of it all.

Plus, to tell you the truth, Whoopi had been great in the movie not leave well enough alone. I also wasn’t crazy about seeing and listening to President Obama who I could hear anytime on TV.

But since I have a 15 year old you look for important moments to share, spiritually, politically, and in every other way.

So there I was standing on the 53rd street line for two hours waiting to get into the theater.

Well, a funny thing happened. The New York community that was waiting on line, was the exact community I wanted my son to be part of. It’s the community I remember growing up with in Brooklyn. It was the community that I remember from my father’s days in the labor movement. It consisted of the people that, when I was a kid, played stick ball and the ones I wouldn’t mind aging with. It was the people you enjoy ad libbing life with.

And when my son took off to get a slice of pizza and when someone finished the last of my LifeSavers, I realized two things—politics is still grounded and people are still involved. And once in a while, waiting on line is the best thing a Cornell professor can do for himself.

The show was much better than I anticipated, but that’s because by the time I got into the theater, I was with 1,400 friends, and everyone was intent on having a good time. At the end of the show, we waited for a few minutes, and, flags and all, the President got on the stage and addressed the crowd.

At one point he talked about the fact that even though he was preaching to the choir he realized that he let some of the people in the audience down. He admitted he didn’t get everything he or they wanted.

Someone screamed out, “No, that’s not true.”

And the President responded by making it clear that it was true. But he pointed out democracy, as he always says, is messy.

This may all seem trivial, but what wasn’t trivial was his mastery of intimacy. But it’s not intimacy hidden beneath charisma, it’s intimacy with a sense of empathy. A sense he understood who was in the audience and where they came from because, like everyone on line, they shared some sort of common, nuanced, history.

Anyone who thinks that Barack Obama is aloof hasn’t heard him speak after Whoopi Goldberg’s production of Sister Act. The man understands quite will where he is, where he’s from, and who he’s speaking to.

By the way, none of this guarantees his greatness or his competence. However, it does guarantee his capacity to get people on his side.

P.S. It was the best place for my son to have been last night.

Picture by: Video4Net



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