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Obama's speech today reminded me of no speech more than what was probably the second most famous speech of the person most historians agree was America's greatest president. That speech was also given before he was president. I am referring to the "House Divided" speech given by senate candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1858. He said:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

When Lincoln said those words at a Republican state convention, he wasn't just making another campaign speech. He was using the political forum to provide guidance to the nation by outlining it's main task in the next decade. I think Obama's Tuesday  speech on race in America will one day be seen in a similar light.

And like Lincoln's speech, Obama wrote it himself. The last time an American politician wrote a major speech himself, other than Obama, was Nixon in 1969. That's how rare it is! He just took two days from the campaign and wrote it himself.

Originally posted to Linux Beach on Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 08:19 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  to paraphrase Abe... (3+ / 0-)

    ...I don't want to call that man a genius, but I don't know what else to call him

  •  Obama is very well-versed (0+ / 0-)

    but as John Murtha said about the Iraq situation in 2005; etc.   Rhetoric doesn't solve the problem. I don't want speeches I want action. I think we all know this and whether its Obama or Hillary that wins... we need to get in there and seal the deal in the general.  And get some of these obstructionist respublican congress members out too like Sunuunu, Coleman, Gerlach, English, Tim Murphy, and the like.  They are true "road block" republicans.  So if it's Obama or Hillary, we want action and we need it fast.

    •  Don't you get it yet? (4+ / 0-)

      Speeches inspire people to act.

      It is a myth, a fallacy, a fantasy to believe that you can simply go into an election booth, cast your vote, have your candidate win and they'll do your bidding.

      It takes political will.

      It takes movements to create the kind of action the Democratic Party advocates and this country so desperately needs.

      PEOPLE drive those movements.  They push they elected representatives to respond to their needs.  They get involved more in their communities.  And much more.

      These movements have happened before.

      It is weak minded to think that a few wrong headed Republicans can stop a movement.  

      FDR proved that.  Reagan proved it too, unfortunately.

      What Washington needs is adult supervision. --BARACK OBAMA

      by broui on Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 08:59:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Leadership is in a well versed speech (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tmo, XOVER, Duccio

      The american presidency is about having the pulpit to start conversations with America and Congress. Speeches are leadership. The congress is for getting things done. Cliniton is suited for that job. The presidency is a sounding board to get America moving in a better direction. I don't know how many people will take the time find this speech and listen to the whole thing. But if Obama was already president then this speech would have been given at 8pm with the network TV on hold, and it could have started changing America. It could have started conversations in every household. Now it just for those that are interested. This is why we really need an obama presidency.

  •  Obama is no Lincoln (0+ / 0-)

    not yet, anyhow. This is how Lincoln expressed himself on slavery, the most divisive and overarching issue of his time, the one on which the future of America hinged:

    This declared indifference, but as I must think, cover real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because if deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world — enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites — causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty — criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

    He clearly cast his lot against slavery. And used all the moral and ethical force at his command to do so.

    Obama's speech was eloquent and strong. But race relations are not the most pressing issue of our day. No second civil war will be needed to settle it--those battles have been fought, by Lincoln and later by MLK. What Obama said was not controversial; it was a reiteration of what all reasonable people already feel.

    No, the great issue of our day, the one on which our very future as a nation hangs, is something quite different. As slavery was to Lincoln's time, so is the climate crisis to our time. And on that issue, Obama has been as unsatisfactory as the rest of them; his moral and ethical appeals, lacking.

    •  I don't think so (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Duccio

      Racial problems are a very major problem, and Senator Obama explained why. He pointed out that unless we can come together as one, none of the other major problems will ever really get solved.

      "how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?" - Senator Obama

      by moviemeister76 on Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 09:05:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  racism is a problem (0+ / 0-)

        but it is nowhere near the kind of all-encompassing total crisis that the issue of slavery represented in the 1850s.

        Remember, the issue was so divisive that a long, bloody civil war was needed to settle it. And despite the fact that the issue was so inflammatory that it literally divided the nation in two, Lincoln strongly cast his lot against slavery, left no ambiguity about where he stood, and used all the moral and spiritual force at his command to fight for his position.

        We face such an all-encompassing total crisis in climate change; and so far Obama has done no more than to make a few nods in the right direction. It's hard to argue that "change you can believe in" comes anything close to the kind of courage and high moral leadership that Lincoln displayed.

        •  The speech may have been about race (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Duccio

          But it included all of us.  We are divided and I felt that this speech was a reflection of the need for us to come together.  It is the only way for any of the current mess to get better.  It was about unity, just like Lincoln's Speech was about unity.  Barack is a very powerful speaker and I think show his ability to lead today.  It was a historic moment.

          •  not arguing that his speech wasn't unifying (0+ / 0-)

            it was.

            But in 2008 the issue of race is not nearly as huge an issue as climate change. That's where it's most important for our leaders to show courage and moral strength, and that's where Obama (and almost all our leaders) are lacking.

            On the most urgent and dire issue of his day, Lincoln was frank, courageous, and left no doubt where he stood. On the most urgent and dire issue of our day, Obama is silent, beyond some token remarks on the problem.

            That is why I say Obama cannot rightly be compared to Lincoln. Obama is good, but he is not (yet) great.

            •  You made his arguement! (0+ / 0-)

              To fix the climate, we MUST come together, first!

              •  to fix the climate, (0+ / 0-)

                one must first acknowledge the magnitude of the problem.

                Lincoln led the Republican party (yes, that Republican party) in its infancy. It had not been formed around pleas for unity or "change we can believe in". Its purpose was to bring an end to slavery and preserve the Union. That was its great aim, and Lincoln was the spokesman for that aim.

                Lincoln chose his issue, then united his coalition around him on the basis of that issue. Obama is trying the reverse: building a coalition on some nebulous idea of unity, then picking the issues which that coalition is to address.

                We must speak more frankly on our most pressing problems first. Otherwise, even if we unite, we do so to no clear purpose and our unity will be scattered at the first sign of trouble.

                •  How can we talk about the issue of climate change (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Duccio

                  ...or any other major issue when there is such a divisive atmosphere in this country?

                  Please understand, I 100% agree with you that climate change is the #1 threat to the world right now.

                  However, the number of people who do not even believe that climate change is anthropomorphic is astounding. And, I believe that it is because of the very real divisions in this country. We are so divided that many of us are even refusing to listen to the other. We are so divided that we do not even believe each other.

                  It is not out of ignorance that so many people reject the threat of climate change. They do not believe in climate change because they have come to distrust the people that are telling them that it is a very serious threat.

                  If we can start honestly and openly dealing with perhaps the most volatile issue in this country, race, then we can start dealing with other things that divide us. Without this, climate change will not be handled in any reasonable manner.

                  The only way to bring about real change in the way the government handles serious issues is if the people, as one, demand it. This is why dealing with our very serious polarization is so very important. Without doing this first, nothing will change.

                  "how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?" - Senator Obama

                  by moviemeister76 on Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 10:56:22 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  slavery divided this country more profoundly (0+ / 0-)

                    than we are divided now. There was civil unrest and outbreaks of rebellion even before war broke out. Half the country seceded from the other half and brother fought against brother to the death! What we have now is nothing in comparison to that.

                    The difference then was that people acknowledged the gravity of the great issue that divided them. They saw clearly the choice that was before them and decided passionately for one side or the other, the Southerners as much as the Northerners. They felt so strongly that they were willing to fight and die for their beliefs.

                    Our problem is not that we are divided. It's that we're still burying our heads in the sand. We are too mired in illusion, too indolent, too accustomed to comfort to change. We're not even willing to give up our cars in order to fight the climate crisis, let alone give up our lives in the effort. And without that kind of passion, no real change can come, nor any true unity either.

                    If the people were ready for the monumental endeavor before them then a leader who was equal to the task would appear, as happened in Lincoln's day. But they aren't, and so that leader hasn't.

                    If that is how it must be, so be it. But Obama is not Lincoln, and his speech, while decent, is still very far short of what we need.

                    •  While the level of violence is not the same (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      limpidglass

                      the hatred is very much still around. Now, it is just hidden away, spoken of only in seclusion. We have become a country where we do not have to listen to anyone with whom we disagree. We do not have to defend our views. We can find a television news station that comforts us in saying what we believe is right, thereby strengthening our beliefs to the point where we feel we are morally right and anyone that disagrees is obviously a monster not worthy of respect as a human being. We can find internet sites that do the same. Rich people are rarely if ever confronted with the myriad of racial, gender and ethnic injustices in this country. Poor people are rarely if ever shown the deceny that many middle-class and rich people exhibit every single day.

                      This site is proof of this. Many attacks that even the most rationale Clinton supporters have received have been out of blind hatred. The very idea that someone would still support Hillary Clinton must mean that that person is a monster and not deserving of respect.

                      This has become such a vicious cycle that we have gotten to the point that we completely tune each other out. People are not giving up their cars and SUVs because the message of how vitally important that they do so is not getting to them. The Republican Party and this administration has done everything in its power to make sure that people are unsure about the dangers of climate change. Thus, they so no real danger in their actions. Think about this: Global Warming was more accepted ten years ago than it is now. I graduated high school more than a decade ago, and back then everyone I knew believed it was a real threat. The energy companies have waged all out war and, unfortunately, they have pretty much won thanks to their nearly infinite pockets of money.

                      I was in a college class last year in which my English professor stood in front of the class and said the climate change "argument" had two sides. When I and one other student spoke out and said that it did not, she was shocked that we would even say so.

                      People are not educated. And, the people that try to educate them are ignored out of mistrust. The messenger is not trusted by so many because we are so polarized. Many of us do not even try to listen to other points-of-view.

                      This is why I believe that the only way we can enact the necessary changes in regards to climate change is to heal the terrible rift in this country. Once we do that, people are going to be more likely to listen to each other. Then, they are going to be more likely to listen to the messengers of the threat of climate change.

                      "how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?" - Senator Obama

                      by moviemeister76 on Wed Mar 19, 2008 at 12:35:27 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I am in agreement with much of what you say (0+ / 0-)

                        regarding the sad state of our political discourse today, but I don't think people will be galvanized to do anything about climate change until their livelihood is threatened. Until then we will simply continue to live in a state of denial.

                        Fine, Obama can speak honestly on race relations. But the times when blacks had to drink from separate water fountains and sit at the back of the bus are long gone. Most reasonable people already accept Obama's argument. What he said boils down to this: both whites and blacks have understandable reasons to resent each other, but those resentments are destructive and keep us from focusing on our real problems. Forty years ago that statement would have been unthinkable, but now it's relatively innocuous.

                        And how willing is Obama to confront the very powerful socioeconomic forces that result in de facto segregation? Ending the war on drugs would do more to bring together poor African-Americans and whites than a thousand inspiring speeches. Is Obama willing to go that far? Is it even possible for him to go that far?

                        But race relations, while a serious problem, don't constitute an imminent crisis, as does climate change. We don't have forty years to wait for the controversy to die down; we must act now. Is Obama willing to go that next step and speak more boldly on climate change, even if it might mean stepping on a few toes?

                        Even very educated people (save for a few farsighted ones) do not grasp the magnitude of the threat. Telling them about it would be useless. They have to feel it before they'll see the need to do anything. Telling me my house is on fire is very different from my seeing that my house is on fire.

                        And I don't think even Obama grasps the threat of climate change, not viscerally. He sees it as important, but not as an overarching issue that is linked to all others. And if he does not himself see it that way, there's little hope he can educate others as to the threat. For what good is a teacher if the teacher himself does not understand what is at stake?

                        Think about this: Global Warming was more accepted ten years ago than it is now.

                        I disagree. It may have been more accepted ten years ago, but that was because everyone thought it was something we could deal with in the future, and we felt we could keep putting off the day of reckoning.

                        Now it has become ever more urgent to do something about climate change, and so corporations have tried much harder to suppress awareness of the problem.

                        And they've failed. Exxon-Mobil is forced to admit the existence of climate change. Al Gore has been recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in alerting the world to the climate crisis. And for the first time ever all the Democratic presidential candidates have at least been forced to propose a plan for dealing with climate change. That's progress.

                        It may be true that more people think climate change is bogus than did a decade ago--but most of them probably didn't even know what climate change was back then. I'd rather they have some idea of it, however misguided, than no idea at all.

                        This disagreement is healthier, I think, than not thinking seriously about the problem, which was the state of things ten years ago. Remember, even the advocates of slavery were forced to give up their misguided beliefs. So too with the skeptics of climate change.

                        You paint a bleak picture of the state of the American public. But I do have hope that even in our blinkered, miseducated, and mistrustful state, we will unite very quickly once we see the true choices before us. Until then it will look like very little is happening.

                        It's reflexive, like the way people huddle together in the cold for warmth. Human beings are wired to come together very swiftly in a crisis. Otherwise we would never have survived this long.

                        I don't think that the people of Lincoln's day were any better educated than today. And even back then, the powers that be were bullshitting them and trying to paper over the problem (remember the Compromise of 1850). But once they all understood what was at stake--their livelihoods--they very quickly began to have a meaningful debate. The debate was so bitter that it required a civil war to settle it; but they did resolve the problem eventually.

                        Once the magnitude of the climate crisis becomes direct and obvious to everyone, we will very quickly see action, despite all the lies and the bullshit. But not before.

                        Our debate has become a bit chicken-or-the-egg. I think that true unity is impossible without acknowledging the great problems we face; you want to focus on unity first, then talk about our most important problems. And I do agree, it's important to be able to break the ice and talk about smaller matters  before talking about the larger.

                        But the problem with unity as an abstract notion, as a basis for a movement, is that it's abstract. When you speak of unity in the abstract everyone agrees that it's a great thing to be unified. But once you actually propose some concrete goal to aim for next, it all falls apart as everyone decides to do something different.

                        This is what I see as one of the problems of Obama's campaign, namely, that it creates a rather superficial kind of unity by emphasizing vague and generic things, like "hope", that everyone can agree on and feel good about, while downplaying anything that might disrupt that sense of unity. And I felt Obama's speech was entirely characteristic of this tendency. The kind of racial unity he argued for in the speech was generic, not directed towards any particular goal except the rather nebulous one of a better life for all.

                        So if he were to try to put the question of climate change to his coalition, what would happen? Would they be able to debate it meaningfully and act in a coherent fashion to solve the problem? Or would they find themselves at odds with each other?

                        I would be more comforted if Obama showed signs that he would encourage his supporters to consider the really substantial issues we face, once he had made them comfortable with smaller issues. Perhaps he won't do that until elected. But I have not yet seen that he is willing to potentially risk his political career by doing so; and if he isn't, he's not of much use, nor is the kind of unity he promotes.

                        •  Push for action (0+ / 0-)

                          I agree with some of what you wrote about Senator Obama. However, I think yesterday he did put forth a request for one real type of action. He asked people to stop with the ridiculously inane analysis that passes for political and intelligent conversation today. Of course, this was directed at the media, but it was also directed at all of us.

                          As for if he gets elected, I have been very impressed so far with his ability to surround himself with very intelligent people. From everything I have read of him, he seems to actively seek out a variety of opinions. Also, once he has fully explored every option and decides to take a firm stance, in the end he seems to come down on the side I agree with on pretty much everything. You are correct that, like most politicians, he has taken no firm stance with climate change. I think this has more to do with controversy than anything else, though. Discussing climate change these days can case a lot of panic with many in the right wing. He clearly does not wish to do this because that would make it even harder to get elected.

                          As for Americans accepting the very serious need for immediate action on climate change, I think the continuing drought that is slowly creeping up on people in the west, southwest and south is going to have a greater impact as we go along. The Daily Show's guest night before last gave me a lot of hope. Jon Stewart seemed stunned for a moment at the gravity of the situation. On the other hand, his obsession with continuing to ask if his region was going to be affected was, I thought, a disturbing trend.

                          Right now, the riots going on in oft-ignored parts of the world over lack of food, a result of climate change, are having no impact. I think this will change, though I am not sure when.

                          I think another major problem is that, from everything I have read, the problem is so huge, that there is very little individual citizens can actually do to stop it. In fact, some of the activities we have been doing for a while which we thought were helpful may even be making things worse. This gives a powerful feeling of helplessness. It is going to take a coordination of pretty much every government in the world to make any helpful change.

                          "how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?" - Senator Obama

                          by moviemeister76 on Wed Mar 19, 2008 at 04:54:17 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

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