President Obama's acceptance speech last night is being appraised as not one of his best speeches. It lacked the soaring poetry of his 2004 keynote, it didn't have the eloquent, rousing universalism of his 2008 acceptance speech. I was moved by the speech in ways neither of those speeches moved me. Reading the speech this morning, I was struck by the fact that this was somber speech for serious times.
Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known; the values my grandfather defended as a soldier in Patton’s Army; the values that drove my grandmother to work on a bomber assembly line while he was gone.
They knew they were part of something larger – a nation that triumphed over fascism and depression; a nation where the most innovative businesses turned out the world’s best products, and everyone shared in the pride and success – from the corner office to the factory floor. My grandparents were given the chance to go to college, buy their first home, and fulfill the basic bargain at the heart of America’s story: the promise that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; that everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules – from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, DC.
The invocation of "you did that" was one of my favorite parts of the speech - putting the impetus and burden for change onto all of us. If we want change, it has to come from each of us, as committed and concerned citizens:
So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change.These passages inspire me. It suggests to me that what has been a bruising first term has in fact changed our President.
You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that.
You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible.
You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely: “Welcome home.”
If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.
Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.
Lost in the early crisis days of the Obama administration was the impetus to organize the people for change. He reclaimed that in this speech.
I’m hopeful because of you.And yet, this somber speech ended with a few soaring words:
The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter – she gives me hope.
The auto worker who won the lottery after his plant almost closed, but kept coming to work every day, and bought flags for his whole town and one of the cars that he built to surprise his wife – he gives me hope.
The family business in Warroad, Minnesota that didn’t lay off a single one of their four thousand employees during this recession, even when their competitors shut down dozens of plants, even when it meant the owners gave up some perks and pay – because they understood their biggest asset was the community and the workers who helped build that business – they give me hope.
And I think about the young sailor I met at Walter Reed hospital, still recovering from a grenade attack that would cause him to have his leg amputated above the knee. Six months ago, I would watch him walk into a White House dinner honoring those who served in Iraq, tall and twenty pounds heavier, dashing in his uniform, with a big grin on his face; sturdy on his new leg. And I remember how a few months after that I would watch him on a bicycle, racing with his fellow wounded warriors on a sparkling spring day, inspiring other heroes who had just begun the hard path he had traveled.
He gives me hope.
I don’t know what party these men and women belong to. I don’t know if they’ll vote for me. But I know that their spirit defines us. They remind me, in the words of Scripture, that ours is a “future filled with hope.”
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.All in all, I think the respect for this speech will grow over time. It doesn't look great now, but I think in time we will come to regard it as a great speech.