Friday, August 29, 2008

Best. Speech. Ever.

Apologies in advance: I generally hate when writers write in the first person, and inject themselves into their observations. But tonight I can't help it. I'm pretty fired up. See if you can tell...

Night before last, I was pissed. So angry, that I stayed up until about 5AM (I don't start work for another few days, so I can afford that on a Wednesday night) and wrote the diatribe that you will find below the very eloquent post written by my venerable former roommate, CP Coleta.

The first three nights of the convention convinced me that the Democrats would blow this election. I watched in horror as Republican talking points dominated their speeches, and their punches were pulled back. Slowly but surely, I felt, the election was slipping through our fingers.

But I was wrong.

I was wrong because I severely underestimated Barack Obama. Watching him deliver that speech last night was like watching the end of Usual Suspects. You're sitting there thinking you know what's happening, that the movie is drawing to a safe conclusion. But then that coffee cup shatters and a rug is pulled out from under you, and soon you're blown away.

Well, last night blew me away.

It's like he was toying with us, making this convention look like the last two, knowing it would make his mark all the more dramatic.

It's like he was toying with them, lulling Republicans into a false sense of security that his candidacy and campaign was just John Kerry 2.0.

When I was at my most desperate, two nights ago, I considered that he may have been leaving the heavy lifting for himself, and that he'd form a thematic, disciplined offensive in his speech. But I quickly brushed the thought aside. Not his style, I thought, that's what Biden was for.

I was dead wrong.

Last night, Barack Obama proved himself what believers have long claimed him to be: A post- partisan leader with unmatched skill, passion and eloquence, ready and able to move this country into a new century. To move us forward philosophically, culturally and, yes, racially.

Every four years, Americans lament a major failing of our two party system: "Is this the best we can do?" "It's always a choice between the lesser of two evils." "I wish we had a third option."

Not this year-- the indecisive and dissatisfied no longer have that crutch.

America: This is the best we can do.

A bi-racial son of the middle class, who has proven his mettle over a near- 2 year campaign, and his judgment and character over decades in public service. He's earned the support of millions of ordinary Americans, and financed his historic campaign with their meager donations.

A week ago, I somewhat longed for a candidate Clinton, who would hit back harder against McCain's aggression. (It's documented in my "Time to get Tough" post of 8/22). But I couldn't imagine Hillary in last night's spot. It's no slight, but she's not packing Mile High Stadium with 84,000+ and that kind of energy. No, her convention would have been an aggressive, slash and burn battle against the Republicans, the likes of which we've come to expect, and for which Democrats have thirsted since 2000.

The genius of Obama and his campaign avoids that. It's aggressive but not destructive; it takes the bluster and hypocrisy of his opponent (be it Clinton or McCain) and turns it against itself. He uses the petty and divisive attacks to prove his point and discredit the messenger. In so doing, Obama ends the vicious cycle of the politics of personal destruction, and makes an election about actual issues.

And that's ground on which Democrats can actually win.

Perhaps the most moving and profound part of it all is that in the end, Senator Obama has displayed unmatched faith in the American people. He believes that if given the opportunity they will see through the tricks and won't follow the BS. His campaign is the fairer and more principled alternative for which Americans have always claimed to long.

Now, it is up to the American people to reward his good faith. This November, we will get the president we deserve. It will either be the dawning of an era full of amazing potential, or we will elect a man who has sold himself out at every turn to chase the Oval Office.

We will entrust a candidate who won on the strength of his message, policies and record, or one who, to curry favor, now opposes legislation he drafted, and stands alongside men he once denounced to please the very people who slandered him.

John McCain has been a good senator, and given a lot to our country. I admire that. But in the last few years, he's proven to stand for very little, even capitulating to President Bush on what was once his most deeply important issue. He'll do or say anything.

We've had presidents like John McCain before. We'll have them again. But right now, we have a chance at something new.

Something better.

I need to say more about the speech itself.

First let me quote libertarian, former Nixon adviser and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan:

"The best convention speech I've ever heard [in 48 years]."

Also, let me just list some of the specifics of what an Obama presidency will look like:

  1. End dependence on Middle East Oil in 10 years by tapping gas reserves, investing in coal, nuclear and alternative fuels; increase fuel efficiency standards in domestic autos
  2. Tax cuts for 95% of working families
  3. Tax breaks to corporations that keep jobs in US, not those that out-source
  4. Recruit new teachers with higher salaries, but mandate higher standards and accountability
  5. Award students who serve for a year with college tuition aid
  6. Universal health care
  7. Change bankruptcy laws to protect employee pensions before CEO bonuses
There was much more, but I just want to touch one last thing:

Obama did an excellent job of articulating what it means to be a Democrat. Make no mistake, this was not a bleeding heart speech. Buchanan himself called it a "deeply centrist speech" (that right there should placate independents and short- circuit the Republican machine-- but it won't).

So here are some of my personal favorite lines:
"We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy."

"Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close."

"Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."

"For over two decades, [McCain's] subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work."

I could copy and paste until the sun comes up. In fact, I practically have. But I'll end by writing that I'm no longer nervous.

In my last post, I wrote that Democrats had asked for a verdict without supplying evidence. Last night, the evidence was laid out and the case has been made fully, forcefully and fairly.

Now, the only question is whether or not the system works.


EMAN said...

Great article, Chris. I had the exact same feelings as you did during and immediately after that speech last night. You summed it up perfectly. And while I was watching it, one thing occurred to me over and over during the course of the speech, he is going to slaughter John McCain. McCain is simply over matched. That was the most eloquent, exciting and intelligent speech I've ever heard in my life. It was gripping and at the same time factual. Way to go, Barack!

Danyak said...

As a former member of Pitchfork Pat's army years ago, I must agree with your and Buchanan's spot-on analysis of Obama's speech. It crosses ideological lines and insteads calls on what unites us as Americans. He reminds me of my political hero, Robert Kennedy and his oft-quoted George Benard Shaw's line..."Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
I'm a Republican, and voting for Barak Obama. I just hope he doesn't disappoint.

Justine said...

Eman and Chris, I hope to god you are right because if McCain and Palin (let's not get started on that please) win, I'm moving to Liechtenstein.