Something truly remarkable happened on Tuesday. Barack Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia that was all the rage on liberal Air America Radio but which was noticed, if at all, by mainstream media only insofar as it advanced the "controversy of the week" concerning his distancing of himself from his longtime pastor and friend, Reverend Wright. What passed beneath the radar screen of the vast majority of Americans was the sea change the speech brought to the political consciousness of our nation. Allow me to quote from the very beginning of the speech to the point where I started to choke up (it's not long):
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
"A More Perfect Union"
"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the
street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched
America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars;
statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny
and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a
Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished.
It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that
divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the
founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more
years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within
our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of
equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people
liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from
bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights
and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were
Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part -
through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a
civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that
gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
These are only words, yet, they carry far more power to move the hearts and minds of men and women than any resume. They are words we have longed to hear since we were last challenged by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy to harken the promise of "the last, great hope of mankind"--the greatest system of government ever devised by the minds of mankind.
They are words that elucidate the "audacity of hope"--the hope of every child that he will someday be able to reach greater heights of happiness than his parents; of every adult that she can live with the dignity of knowing that America's promise is without question her promise, too; and the hope of every senior that their life will be honored in sickness and in health by a society that truly values all life from cradle to grave.
They are also words that will strike terror in those whose hearts have been hardened by a fear of never having enough--enough wealth, enough power, enough love--to assure their place of prominence in the world. These are the folks who believe that life is a zero-sum game, that when others are enriched, even in the most powerful and richest country in the world, they are necessarily diminished. It is in the minds of a miserable few of these folks that the thought might take root that the solution to all their problems is to quash any dreams of success that might spring forth from such words. It has happened so many times before. Think of a great prophet of the past and with it comes the realization that, for such as these, life is a flame that flashes with a brilliant light and then is extinguished so suddenly as to make the darkness seem eternal.
So, we must take words such as those Sen. Obama spoke on Tuesday, carry them in our hearts, and give them life. They are what keep us going, despite all the ignorance, hate, and foolishness we see about us. They are the gift that keeps on giving and that will guide us toward reawakening the enlightenment of America's beginning and the promise of all humans everywhere.