Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What A Speech! Obama: A More Perfect Union

I had heard that it was a strong speech. An elderly British man and I chatted about it last night- he had been impressed. A friend from Vermont, active in the Obama Campaign, to whom I expressed concerns about the Wright/Obama issue, emailed me as Obama's talk was being broadcast live: "This speech is incredible on so many levels... I hope you're getting or will get the chance to see it -- not just read it.."

Now, I've heard it for myself, complete, and in it's entirety, thanks to the magic of the internet. It got past the editorial gatekeepers of the sensationalist media, and I was able to judge it for myself. I agree completely with my friend...it was an amazing speech and it lifted my heart. Barack Obama gave the best reasons I've heard in my lifetime to justify my hope for this country, my pride in our history, and the work we have to do to move ourselves to where we would wish to be as a nation.

I urge you to watch the speech in it's entirety...I'll put up a link to the video at the end of this post, but in a world of sound bites, I'll choose a few that stood out for me:

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger... The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who... on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are part of me. And they are part of America...

Barack Obama spoke of the kind of politics we have been practicing in this country:

We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

And he spoke about the way politics could (and I believe must) be practiced in this country:

Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time."

This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.

This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.

This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.

Senator Obama spoke about the anger of Black Americans trapped by a past they did not make.

And he spoke of the Anger of White Americans are are tired of being blamed for an evil which they have not personally committed.

Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

He spoke of the anger on all sides of those who know that they are not reaping the just rewards of their hard work and he spoke of the dangers of allowing our anger at other Americans to keep us from joining together, as Americans, to overcome our shared problems.

"The path to a more perfect union," Barack Obama said, "requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper."

Our arrival at a better America will not be simple, nor will it be quick, but it can come. He said:

It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

It is a great speech, and, for me personally, those are exactly the words that I, and I believe the nation, needs to hear. Not just as damage control for the Wright episode, but because we stand at a juncture in history where, with hard work, and with - to borrow Lincoln's phrase- a dedication to the unfinished work which our ancestors have thus far so nobly advanced, we can continue our forward journey.

Great rhetoric is not not enough, but it is where we start.

I hope you'll watch or read the speech.

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