Julia Alvarez
Julia Alvarez is the author of In the Time of the Butterflies and most recently, a nonfiction book, A Wedding in Haiti. With her husband, Bill Eichner, she is cofounder of Café Alta Gracia, a farm and literacy center in her native Dominican Republic. She is a writer in residence at Middlebury College.

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REASON 41: I'm voting for Obama, the storyteller, the wordsmith.

There are many reasons to vote for Obama, among them: his support of the DREAM act, of women's right to choose, of health care reform, of everyone's right to marry whom they love; his thoughtfulness and willingness to consult a wide range of nonpartisan views and rethink an issue if he has to. But perhaps because I am a writer and a storyteller, and I know how stories give us a map of reality, how important they are in helping us re-imagine the world outside the canned paradigms presented to us, I will be voting for all-of-the-above Obamas and more: for Obama, the storyteller; Obama, the wordsmith; Obama, the poet, with the skill to remind us of things we mustn't forget and to help us understand ourselves in complex, nuanced, and enduring ways.

Think about his remarkable speech on race, which began as an explanation of his relationship with the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But it went far beyond into one of the best critiques and moving explorations of the too-often polarizing topic: race in America. The speech brought together our diverse experiences of race, and helped us see the complex issues at hand without bitterness, oversimplication, or pandering to any constituency.

As he said in another speech, “Words matter: 'I have a Dream.' 'We hold these truths to be self evident.' 'There is nothing to fear but fear itself.'” These words have shaped who we are as a people, returning us time and again to “the better angels for our nature,” to quote another president who was skilled at using language to lead us through turbulent historical times.

Change begins this way, and the finer the skill, the more reflective of the complexity of an issue, the more nuanced, the less pat and patented, the more we stand a chance of seeing the world in a truly diverse, complex, and compassionate way. But without this skill, even “good change” gets so flattened out and reduced to platitudes that we end up doing the right thing with no clear and regenerative understanding of what we are doing.

The manipulative, obfuscating, and inept use of language by so many of our leaders has made many of my fellow citizens cynical and mistrustful of eloquence and storytelling. But we do ourselves a disservice in dismissing the importance of clear and luminous language to express who we are, help us think straight, and tell us the story of what we can become in a way that can inspire us to keep working at this unfinished experiment of a government of the people, by the people, and for all the people.

In his famous essay, “Politics in the English Language,” George Orwell reminds us that there is “a special connection between politics and the debasement of language.” The decline of language in politics goes hand in hand with an unthinking, easily manipulated citizenry. A nation whose leaders use language skillfully “can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration.”

My family had to flee a dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, where language was used for indoctrination; there was only one official story and no freedom of expression. Soon after we arrived in New York, my mother remarked that we were definitely in a free country: the national anthem gave everyone encouragement to "Oh say what you see!"

I'm voting for Obama because he says what we need to see skillfully, beautifully.

Julia Alvarez
 Middlebury, Vermont

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