Thursday, August 28, 2008

Congratulations Senator Obama!

John McCain's running a congratulatory ad buy tonight during Barack Obama's acceptance speech at INVESCO Field in Denver:

Here's the text:

“Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America. Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations. How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at it. But tonight Senator, job well done.”
This is a great day in history, and Obama's breakthrough is in some respects a culmination of his own search for identity, and America's as well:

Four years ago, Barack Obama introduced himself to America by painting a picture of a country that was united, somehow, in spite of itself.

The pundits, he said in the keynote address to the Democratic convention, like to "slice and dice" the country: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.

"But I've got news for them too: We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."

His task that night was to ready the crowd for the presidential nominee, John F. Kerry, but in the end his words were most memorable for an argument that challenged the partisan divide and was built on the foundation of his own unique story. Since then, it's become a familiar element of his speeches. His father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas.

But it's more complicated than that.

Abandoned by his father, separated for long periods from his mother, Obama searched for many years to find his identity. He was caught between love and loyalty to his white family and respect and an inchoate sense of belonging to the African American community.

He eventually learned to navigate between black and white worlds, a skill that would play well in the political arena. He earned a reputation as a pragmatist and a consensus builder, and along the way raised the bridges that would sustain his ambition.

On the campaign trail this year, he is both a political and cultural phenomenon. For some, he represents a new beginning for the nation. For others, he is inexperienced, merely lucky, even a fairy tale. Underlining it all is a historic prospect: He would be the first black president of the United States.

Race has been the steady undertow of his candidacy -- and of his life.

As he paraphrased William Faulker this March in a landmark speech on race: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past."
For all of my criticism of Barack Obama, readers should never forget that I deeply respect him, and in him I see some of the challenges of my own experiences.

I've been teaching all day today, four classes of American government. I've extolled the magic significance of Obama's address coming 45 years after Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

I have suggested to my students, however, that Obama cannot dwell on racial recrimination. He can't refuse to acknowledge the phenomenal progress in civil rights that permits him to take the stage tonight in accceptance of his epochal achievement. He cannot sound aggreived. He needs to assure people not only that he shares their values, but that he respects their judgment. Obama, most of all, needs to make the case that he's up to the grave leadership responsibility that comes with occupancy of the White House.

If he can't do all of that, if he instead continues with the ethereal speechmaking and uplift that has been both a hallmark and source of criticism of his campaign, he may fail to rejuvenate the momentum that brought him and our nation to this moment in history. He needs, simply, to recover the magic that Americans witnessed July 27, 2004, during
Obama's keynote address the Democratic Convention in Boston.

Rekindling that feeling of confidence and refreshment must be the product of this year's Democratic gathering in Denver.