Barack Obama speaks to Democratic National Convention (credit: AP both images)
How many of you saw Barack Obama’s brilliant speech before the Democratic National Convention this week? Probaby not too many as it wasn’t covered by network TV. You had to go to PBS, CNN or CSPAN to watch it. I don’t know about you, but that pisses me off. As David Brooks said (and David Brooks is not a source I look to normally):
What a shame the networks aren’t covering this speech. They missed out on history being made.
You remember the old Fairness Doctrine? Under its rules, the networks performed a civic duty in broadcasting political conventions. Then the FCC came along and dismantled the Fairness Doctrine and said that networks were henceforth free to determine what they wanted to broadcast and what they didn’t. Somehow, the public good would be served by this even without the former protections. Well, a perfect example of the damage done by repealing this rule is the disappearance of Obama’s speech (and almost everything else of this Convention) from most of the public airwaves. For shame! Every major network and their news anchors deserve the opprobrium of every American who thinks that politics are something that matter in this society; that politics are not mere boredome and drudgery to be aired in one hour increments it that.
Here’s what they missed. Democracy Now has done a great public service by providing a video stream of the complete speech along (I haven’t found another site on the web providing this important service) with a transcript.
I consider myself a ‘red meat’ Democrat, a dyed in the wool true believer. Speeches like Mario Cuomo’s and Jesse Jackson’s to past DNC conventions set my heart on fire. So imagine my surprise to hear Obama diverge from the ‘red meat’ formula for traditional convention speeches. If you want to hear a traditional speech, watch the video of Al Sharpton’s speech (it starts at minute 60 of the video stream) or read the transcript. Nothing wrong with it and I know it sure raised the rafters in Fleet Center.
But Obama set out to do something quite different. He wanted to frame issues of race, equal opportunity and social injustice in an entirely new way. He wanted to diverge from the traditional Democratic notion of appealing to its diverse party base with varying messages to fit each particular niche. Instead, and I think it is almost a revolutionary notion within the Democratic party, he was saying: “Let’s look at what unites us. Let’s look at our shared values and ideals. We can still address issues of concern to minorities, but only in terms that all Americans can understand and empathize with.”
Here are some pertinent sections of the speech:
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And fellow Americans — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.
Don’t get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
I can’t remember a time when I heard a minority speaker at the Democratic convention laud the value of hard work. And lest anyone think that Obama is your typical anti-war Democrat listen to this hard-hitting section:
A while back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, 6’2” or 6’3”, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week. As I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us? I thought of more than 900 service men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who will not be returning to their hometowns. I thought of families I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or with nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.
A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.
Can you remember the last time that a Democratic convention speaker spoke as appreciately and thoughtfully about a member of the armed forces?
And finally, can you remember another minority Convention speaker who, as in this portion of his speech, looked past the particular grievances (no matter how legitimate) of his ethnic group to embrace the greater good of the entire American society?
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.
I have to admit that in the past I would’ve found this approach to be dilutive of the powerful message I thought the party represented in American politics. But after seeing Obama do it successfully, I have to admit that many more Americans will come to the Democratic Party based on his approach than based on Al Sharpton’s. I’m not saying Sharpton doesn’t have an important role to play. But Obama is the one who will bring in the crucial undecided white voters who are needed to clinch any Democratic election victory. And Obama will go far in national poltics, perhaps all the way to the White House someday, while Sharpton will be an interesting footnote in political history.