An Electric Moment
Last night a football stadium was packed to the gills, not with football fans cheering on their home team, but rather with people from all walks of life who endured long lines and heat in order to listen to a politician deliver a speech. It was a speech given 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech that, symbolically and literally, opened the way for a black man to accept the nomination for president of the United States. It was a speech given to cheering crowds and extraordinarily high expectations. It was given to a nation that has gone decades without an inspirational leader. It was a speech given during an inflexion point in history, when the world is facing new global challenges and new global opportunities, and the very strength of America’s place in the world depends on the direction we choose to take; will we once again be a nation that does not torture, that does not invade sovereign nations, that leads by example? Will we be innovators? Will we rebuild our infrastructure, provide health care to all, protect social security and educate our children?
Something Amazing is Stirring
So it was that Obama stood up before the crowd and, looking calm, confident and collected, gave a speech that at times soared into the clouds and at times swept along the earth. He gave a speech that moved to poetry and then, in a smooth change in tone and cadence, became an explanation of policy positions. He gave a speech that attacked his opponent without disrespecting his opponent. He gave a speech that moved commentators–myself included–to soaring commentary. And finally, he gave a speech that will resonate in history not because of any one line or phrase, but because of the context and the moment. We will look back on this night when we are older and proudly say, “I remember that.” We will think back on where our country was headed and realize that something amazing was stirring all along.
I could discuss specific policy points that he raised. For instance, I was happy to hear him challenge America to wean itself from foreign oil within 10 years. But that’s beside the point. The flow of history is not smooth and constant. Most of the time we do not take note of the broader context of our lives because we are so caught up in the details of our existence. But, on rare occasions, something happens to make us look up and at ourselves in a different way, occasions that make us aware that beyond our own lives there are the lives of millions of people, past, present and future, who shape and are shaped by everyone else. On these occasions we come to feel that great things are possible, because we are no longer thinking merely of what we can do with our own hands and minds, but what we can do when we join hands and minds with others.
On the Right Side of History
Obama made the kinds of statements that one dreams a politician will make. He noted that while some may disagree on abortion, we can all agree that it is good to avoid unwanted pregnancies, that must be able to find a way to protect the second amendment without endangering lives. He aptly pointed out that the republicans are running a petty campaign, focusing on gay marriage and abortion rather than the real issues. He stood up to those that will attack him and brushed that criticism aside. In short, he spoke like a man who is on the right side of history.
I have no doubt that the election will be difficult–and exciting. It is not a guarantee that Obama will win. The republicans will attack him as much as they can, and there are a lot of people in this country who will not vote for a black man. But if we work hard, and continuously rebut the petty attacks that have plagued democrats in the past, we can once again be excited about what our country can do and the direction in which it is headed.