When America Worked

Doesn’t it feel like it was 30 or 40 years ago?

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago tonight that Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, putting him on the path to make—and change the course of—history. Just a decade ago, it seemed as though every dream could come true. A decade later, it seems as though every nightmare will.

It was invigorating to hear such hope from a presidential candidate. After eight years of cynicism and corruption, we needed to hear Obama’s bold words. We needed to know that there was something better on the horizon. We needed to see an actual leader.

Did we appreciate that moment? Did we recognize the magnitude of Obama’s accomplishment? Did we realize that this moment would be fleeting, that if this gallant man became President, his administration would mark a hiatus from hypocrisy, a few short years of grace and dignity before the White House would once again be tainted by right-wing radicalism and conservative chicanery?

Speaking of what came after Obama, consider his words ten years ago about the Democratic rival he defeated—and contrast those words with the prattle from the lock-her-up crowd:

Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign. She has made history not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she is a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight…

We’ve certainly had our differences over the last 16 months. But as someone who’s shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning — even in the face of tough odds — is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago, what sent her to work at the Children’s Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as first lady, what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency: an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be.

And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country — and we will win that fight — she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen.

Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

That’s class and grace—the class and grace we miss and long for. Well, some of us anyway. Not the ones who hated Obama’s guts for the most ancient of reasons, not the ones who loathed the man because of both the color of his skin and the content of his character, not the ones who prefer tabloid trash in the White House. Right-wingers love to argue that Obama divided this country. I would argue that it was the image of Obama, the symbol of Obama, that divided this country—between the civil and the crass, between the honorable and the hateful, between goodness and darkness.

In his speech ten years ago tonight, Obama famously concluded:

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge — 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.

Will we ever see such hope again? Will we ever hear such inspiration again? Will we ever experience the fulfillment of our hopes and the realization of our dreams again? I have to believe the answer is yes—and that one day in the very near future, against all odds, hope will again trump fear.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.