Sunday, January 27, 2008


Barack Obama's victory speech after the South Carolina primary

When I read The Audacity of Hope last year, I was impressed. It was hard to admit that I was impressed; after all this guy was obviously ambitious, and since he was running for president, he would soon be sucking up to this or that interest group, contradicting himself from one week to the next, because that's how you get elected. Or he could be a sideshow candidate, true to his principles with a minuscule following.

Still, The Audacity of Hope was an impressive book. The Republican library volunteer sneered as I checked the book out, saying "Do you think he wrote it himself?" As I dug into it, I was sure he wrote it himself, since a publicist would have gutted the lectures on the constitution and the debates about the Founding Fathers' intentions and included many more heartwarming anecdotes in the manner of the Lifetime Channel.

What the publicist would not have known, what I didn't know, was that my heart was yearning to be lectured to by someone who knew intimately and revered our Constitution for the treasure that it is. When I came to the 27 pages of the book that detailed the history of US foreign policy from 1776 to the present, I was smitten. To think of all of that history as a single narrative, then to write it coherently in a mere 27 pages, was genius!

But geniuses don't get to be president. It's one thing to write well and another thing to win elections. It was Obama's victory speech in Iowa that sold me. Even then, I felt sheepish. Liz and Brendan watched the speech on YouTube with me, and I said, "Well, just being able to give a good speech doesn't mean he'd be a good president."

They laughed. "We've already seen what the guy who can't speak in public could do! Let's elect Obama!"

I do evaluate candidates on the basis of their stands on the various issues. But their stances aren't all that different, and my two big issues -- "How do we address climate change?" and "How do we get our Constitution back?" --aren't front and center in the debates. What my two issues have in common is that they require all of us to make some sacrifices for the common good, and Obama is the only one who is challenging us to do just that.

I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina. I saw South Carolina. I saw crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children. I saw shuttered mills and homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from all walks of life, and men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. I saw what America is, and I believe in what this country can be.

That is the country I see. That is the country you see. But now it is up to us to help the entire nation embrace this vision. Because in the end, we are not just up against the ingrained and destructive habits of Washington, we are also struggling against our own doubts, our own fears, and our own cynicism. The change we seek has always required great struggle and sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our own hearts and minds about what kind of country we want and how hard we’re willing to work for it.

So let me remind you tonight that change will not be easy. That change will take time. There will be setbacks, and false starts, and sometimes we will make mistakes. But as hard as it may seem, we cannot lose hope. Because there are people all across this country who are counting us; who can’t afford another four years without health care or good schools or decent wages because our leaders couldn't come together and get it done.
That's a piece from Obama's victory speech in South Carolina. He uses the word "you" a lot, challenging people to step up, throw off the cynicism, and get to work.

Watching Obama's speeches on YouTube is a new pastime for Anna and me, a pleasure to look forward to.

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