Now That's a Speech!

Read it if you didn't hear or see Barack Obama's speech last night.

After eight long years, it sure would be nice if we got someone in the White House who didn't mangle the English language as a point of pride.

I love that it's not just the same old "underneath our skins, we're all the same" tropes. He's not saying "We're all the same," because we all know that's not true. It's a lovely, idealistic dream, but it's not true. He's saying, "I'm not going to get up here and tell you that race doesn't matter, because, well, of course it matters. It's part of who we are. But it doesn't matter enough to divide us when it comes to the real, meaningful issues that face us all."

I love that he continues to reject the knee-jerk jingoism that has come to substitute for genuine love of country in American political discourse over these last six-and-a-half years:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

See what he's doing there? He's not just saying, "Oh, well, if I had known that Reverend Wright was such a wacko, I would have left that church years ago" like so many politicians would do. Instead, he's reminding us of the single greatest aspect of living in a free society - that you're free to disagree with anything anyone says, and it doesn't mean you don't still like and respect that person. And that criticizing our government is not just the right but perhaps even the duty of every American. And yet he still repudiates Wright's remarks. Doing all this at once is deft and brilliant, something Dubya and a million speech writers could never pull off.

This is why I continue to write about Obama and his campaign. Because he does that. For all the garbage anyone can spew about his supposed lack of substance, the fact remains, he addresses hard truths. He doesn't shy away from the complexity of issues in favor of flashy production, easy soundbites and Orwellian double-speak. And through it all, he appeals to our better nature.

That's where the crux of this primary campaign lies, I think, and it's why Obama is likely to ultimately be the nominee. The old trope is, "vote your hopes, not your fears." Well, Hillary has been playing to our fears, as the now-infamous "3 a.m." commercial amply demonstrates. Obama, in the meantime, reminds us of something a lot of people forgot over these last few years. He reminds us that we're better than what we've been. We're better than Iraq. We're better than Abu Ghraib and water-boarding and extreme rendition. We're better than the aftermath of Katrina. We're better than all of that. We're capable of being a better country than Dubya has wanted us to be.

I'm not saying that Obama can't/won't/hasn't/shouldn't "go negative." But he continues to show himself to have a broader perspective than his current opponent, or his presumptive next opponent. And after the last presidential campaign, in which Kerry did little more than try to terrify us of four more years of Bush and Bush did nothing but try to terrify us of a country with anyone other than His Royal Christian Majesty in charge, someone who really does give us a chance to vote our hopes rather than our fears means an awful lot.