I am hoping this speech does not fade from our collective memories in the rush of politics as usual. I note on some of the blogs and forums I frequent, everyone seems reluctant to say much, some out of express reservations about the candidate, some perhaps reluctant to get caught up in too much enthusiasm, too much trust in such high promises and ideals.
I certainly understand why many do not want to get their hopes up or, at least, need to remain skeptical of any and all politicians. Already there are some who are unhappy with how Obama has dealt with his church affiliation and relations with his pastors; others who had their heart set on Hillary. However, among loyal Democrats and others who fundamentally agree with much that Obama is campaigning for, I wonder why there are not more expressions of sheer joy at hearing a speech like this.
Maybe it is just nostalgia on my part for some of the great speech givers of the recent past -- Julian Bond, Barbara Jordan, Mario Cuomo, Bobby Kennedy, JFK and others. But for me it goes beyond a love of nice sounding words or memories of particular individuals. It hearkens back to a time when many people really believed that government could and should aspire to do good -- not solve all problems or change human nature, but at least try its best to serve people, to find new ways of doing things when needed, to value old ways that have had some success, and not just provide the stage for those trying to clamor for more and more power, where there is not much left to do but watch the tumult and the gymnastics.
I don't know if Barack Obama will be elected or, if elected, whether he will succeed in bringing the people of the country together, ending the war in Iraq, and refocusing our energies on much needed work at home and, at the same time, be mindful of the needs and concerns of the rest of the world, whose resources we consume at such a frightful pace. But I do know that we need more people, voters and politicians alike, to talk about dreams again, to not give up and give in to the politics of hate and division. We need to believe again, not to have uncritical faith in any one individual or party or set of programs, but to believe in the capacity of human beings to plan for and accomplish good things. Yes, it requires humility on our part and the grace of God, but even though humans alone cannot bring forth the Kingdom on earth, neither can we afford to be mired in despair, cynicism, and inertia.
So, whether any of us agree with all of Obama's programs or even choose to vote for him, let us at least embrace the ideals he speaks of so eloquently. Here's hoping.
Senator Barack Obama, St. Paul, MN, June 03, 2008:
The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon – that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are always Americans first.
Despite what the good Senator from Arizona said tonight, I have seen people of differing views and opinions find common cause many times during my two decades in public life, and I have brought many together myself. I've walked arm-in-arm with community leaders on the South Side of Chicago and watched tensions fade as black, white, and Latino fought together for good jobs and good schools. I've sat across the table from law enforcement and civil rights advocates to reform a criminal justice system that sent thirteen innocent people to death row. And I've worked with friends in the other party to provide more children with health insurance and more working families with a tax break; to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and ensure that the American people know where their tax dollars are being spent; and to reduce the influence of lobbyists who have all too often set the agenda in Washington.
In our country, I have found that this cooperation happens not because we agree on everything, but because behind all the labels and false divisions and categories that define us; beyond all the petty bickering and point-scoring in Washington, Americans are a decent, generous, compassionate people, united by common challenges and common hopes. And every so often, there are moments which call on that fundamental goodness to make this country great again.
So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.
So it was for the Greatest Generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny, and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.
So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom's cause.
So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that's better, and kinder, and more just.
And so it must be for us.
America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.
The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
Full text here.