Columnist looks to Obama’s 2004 DNC Speech for a path forward.
BY GEORGE BERNARD ’23
After Democrats’ strong performance during the midterms, I found myself returning to the same place I always do when I need political inspiration: Obama’s 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention. The speech wasn’t televised at the time, but nevertheless it was very impactful, introducing a young Barack Obama to a national stage. While some parts of the speech are clearly dated, such as calling on people to vote for John Kerry, a vast majority of it remains relevant today. He covers a wide array of topics such as immigrations, race, support for the working class and patriotism all with his charismatic charisma and hopefulness.
With today’s fragmented 24/7 news, there is always someone competing for your attention and the media has discovered that feeding people’s fears and constantly being negative is very good at getting clicks. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite would tell America the hard facts and political debates were over solutions to problems facing our country. Now we argue over basic facts and quarrel over meaningless culture war issues, ignoring the real problems facing our country. I believe that this disconnect between Washington and the rest of America is the reason we are so pessimistic, it can feel like nobody wants to make change for the better. Both parties, although Republicans are more guilty of this, seem to have no interest in solving problems if they aren’t in power because that would give the opposing side a victory. This is evident in polling that indicates that 71% of Americans believe that the country is going in the wrong direction.
In my last column, I called for the Democratic Party to moderate its messaging and pivot away from identity politics, and today, I am calling on everyone to be more hopeful for the future. All of us need to make a concerted effort to undo the toxicity of politics. I believe that the ideals layed out in this speech offer a path forward.
“For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother… It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.”
This is even more true today. When democrats and republicans are increasingly geographically divided, it is important that we don’t dehumanize the other side and remember that they have sincerely held beliefs and want what they believe is best for our country. He points out that “E pluribus unum” , the Latin phrase on every coin and dollar bill, translates to “out of many, one”.
“Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too…We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States…We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
At the end of the day, we should all keep in mind that as flawed as America is, it is still one of, if not the greatest nation in the world. We all need to avoid the monolithic narratives that are reductive such as how the left tends to view America very cynically, viewing social democracies such as Norway as far superior while failing to recognize that Europe is much less hospitable to immigrants than we are or the immense amount of humanitarian work we do. The right is also guilty of this, promoting America as perfect, ignoring the ramifications of our history and turning a blind eye to our support of nations that abuse human rights.
We all need to be more optimistic in our politics. Rather than attacking the other side, parties should compete against each other for better policies. We should be less tribal, realizing that neither side is perfect, and both have at least a few good ideas.