I haven’t watched Obama’s acceptance speech yet, but I read it. Over 2 million people watched it firsthand in D.C. I don’t know exactly what it felt like to hear, but I know I was impressed. Obama spoke of reality and hard work and sacrifice, not the empty platitudes we are used to hearing. Is hope a platitude? I don’t know. I do know that that was what I felt as I read his words. President Obama, and how sweet it is to write those words, had this to say:
“In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].“
He never once said: “Yes, we can.” He didn’t have to. He said:
“With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.“
This is a leader. I have often spoke of the despair I felt at the inevitable decline of the ideals of the American United States. Obama recognized this:
“These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.“
Nailed me there. But, he went on:
“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.“
All of this could be brushed off as empty words, except that President Obama recognizes the struggle ahead and will take action, with us, to make things right.
He also spoke of war, a tattered economy, and of the petty grievances and false promises, recriminations, and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled us. And he spoke of doing something about it:
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.“
Obama promises to be a man of action. But actions without goals are meaningless. We cannot abandon the goals of this country, and those goals have much more to do with freedom, democracy, and respect for all humanity, than they have to do with simply nationalistic defense. Many of us picked up the torch of freedom, of fighting for all people, of ending war, and creating the nation that we could be. We have faltered, weary in our pursuit of ideals that were abandoned in our first brush with the violence raging in other parts of the world. President Obama wants to revise that spirit.
“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.“
Yes, these are the things we must do. Can we? I’m beginning to remember what it felt like to believe we, the people, can.