When I listen to Barack Obama speak, I feel hopeful. Maybe we can renew our nation. Perhaps we can recommit ourselves to the noble values and grand purpose of America. Obama takes me back to the 60’s, and I remember the dangers visionaries like he face willingly.
I was a senior in high school when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I was finishing college at the University of Minnesota when Martin Luther King was murdered on April 4, 1968 and then Robert Kennedy two months later.
These men transcended politics: they had greatness in their visions, fire in their words, and magic in their personas. So many hopes and dreams flickered when those men died—aspirations never extinguished but their energy dampened.
These tragedies inspired me to become an agent in the United States Secret Service. The image of agent Clint Hill as he bravely and desperately tried to save President Kennedy that dark day in Dallas moved me. Nobility resides in those willing to die to safeguard democracy.
I was trained to protect our leaders.
For half of my first year in the Secret Service, I protected former Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. I also worked at the White House and traveled around the world in July of 1969 as part of President Richard Nixon’s security detail.
I know two things from these and other experiences in the Secret Service. First, determined women and men protect our leaders. Second, no one can be protected completely. If someone wants to get a shot at a leader, they probably can.
I fear most for our visionary leaders. Those rare people, who rise above politics and have a spiritual nature, offer a vision that calls for a future never seen before. A reality not foreshadowed or predicted by the past.
Such leaders stir strong emotions in their followers: hope, excitement, enthusiasm, and renewed faith in the possibilities of our better selves. These emotions energize and give people courage and everything feels possible.
Such leaders also bring forth powerful feelings in those committed to an earlier and now exhausted vision: fear, envy, anger, jealousy, and resistance to the losses they anticipate. Change does not happen easily. Those invested in the status quo fight hard to hang onto what benefits them. A few kill people.
Many leaders do not survive the movements they begin: Jesus, Gandhi, Lincoln, King, Kennedy, and recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan. Transformational leaders know the perils. They go forward inspired and given courage by a noble vision, a powerful sense of purpose, and values made strong by tests and temptations.
I feel the best energy of the 60’s when I listen to Barack Obama. He knows our deepest yearnings. His special gifts match our dreams. He gives this weary idealist renewed hope for a better future for our nation and our world. I believe he can lead our country from the precipice of decline.
Mr. Obama faces danger. He and the Secret Service know it. I am sure hundreds of threats have been made against his life and many twisted and dangerous people are being watched and accounted for as he travels.
The agents of the Secret Service will do all they can to protect him and all our leaders. People who attend political events can keep their eyes open too.
And say a prayer for his safety and the well-being of all who inspire us to be better people so our hearts will not be broken and our spirits disillusioned yet again.
(Heuerman, Moorhead, is an organizational consultant, former Secret Service agent, and former executive at the Star Tribune)