Ten years ago today, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Illinois State Senator and US Senate candidate Barack Obama delivered the speech heard ’round the world.
There was plenty to admire about the speech: Obama effectively made the case for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, pointed to his background as a testament to America’s acceptance of diversity, and condemned George W. Bush’s wrongheaded rush into Iraq. However, there was a segment of the speech that was manifestly false:
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America – there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
How Obama could declare, in the middle of Bush’s divisiveness, that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America” is beyond me. Is it not clear that we are in fact two nations–one progressive and one reactionary, one that looks forward and one that looks back, one that loves and one that hates? How could Obama possibly deny that? All the soaring rhetoric in the world can’t mask that.
Of course, Obama probably used that line because the speech itself did not really express a compelling progressive vision; instead, it cleverly positioned Obama as a non-discredited Colin Powell. Why else do you think David Brooks gushed over it?
Yes, there were moments of inspiration in the speech, but also moments of nonsense. He should have acknowledged that we are in fact a divided nation, and that those who believe that America can be better have to conquer those who want America to get worse. Had he done so, his speech would have gained even greater stature among the American people.