History was made today.
For better or worse, March 18, 2008, the day the green began to seep away from his hometown of Chicago River, will be marked in history as the day when the first credible African-American presidential candidate and Democratic party frontrunner refused to ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room, but rather, confronted a beast that refuses to release its stranglehold on America, powerfully and with dignity.
A day when a black man afforded every privilege of America, private schooling, elite colleges, a seat in the United States Senate, took the sum of his parts and rather than try to sweep them under the rug or bamboozle the crowd with snake oil, stripped those parts bare and naked, and said, "This is who I am."
Just words? I think not. "Not this time."
Whatever happened to "Don't judge, lest ye be judged?" What about, "Walk a mile in my shoes?" Did we really want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, or was that just another Madison Avenue come on to sell cases of Coca-Cola? Does anybody here remember my old friend John? Martin? Bobby? When peaceful protest could bring about profound changes in our society, our legal system, and in our hearts?
What's happened to us since then, America?
I'll tell you what. The daisy ad. Riots. Death. The National Guard. Black Panthers. Disillusionment. Lost wars. J. Edgar Hoover. Watergate. Presidential pardons. Distrust. Hostages. Nicaragua. Weapons deals. Waco. Bin Laden. 9/11.
All around us, public schools continue to fail, the economy is in shambles, homelessness is increasing, diseases and disorders are on the rise. More senseless murder. Gangs. We sit and watch the sound bites, click off the TV and hope it all goes away.
No, it isn't going away.
It's part of who we've become, America, whether we wanted to or not, it's who we are. And sure, thank goodness, good human decency is still in large supply. We are still a fairly prosperous nation, a generous people, and for the most part, free. But this isn't the America we imagined for ourselves and our children back in those heady days of the 1960s when almost anything seemed within our grasp. Back when Americans looked at themselves with pride and accomplishment, as the greatest nation in the world, when we envisioned a future realizing a dream that began on a lonely bus seat in Selma, Alabama.
What's happened to us since then?
We've become beaten and dispirited because nothing ever changes. The politicians promise and talk and tell us how our lives will be so much better when we put them into office. And we believe and pull the lever because, honestly, what choice do we have? They're all the same. Just a different package. We hope this time it will be different. But it rarely is. Because most of them are in the business of politics for themselves, not the people, we've all seen this show before.
But once in a while, maybe once in a lifetime, that rare candidate comes along. The one who, yes, chooses his words oh so carefully, but whose message basically stays the same. The one who tells you up front what he plans to do, and you may not agree with those plans, may not want the implementation of those plans, but at least you know what the plans are. The rare candidate who doesn't parade his skeletons in the closet, but when those skeletons come out to play, doesn't ignore them either or hope they'll eventually dance away.
A candidate who picks up the broken shards of hopes and dreams, before the bullets shattered them into a million pieces, who holds the shards up to the light and says, "We can make America great, but first we must find a way to come together, and if you give me that chance, I will show you the way."
A candidate with the audacity to hope because once hope is gone, there's no realistic chance of making anything different. A candidate who goes against the flow, who doesn't look at things the way they are and ask, "Why?" But who looks at things the way they could be and asks, "Why not?"
We've been down this road before, America, so many times. We're so beaten and disillusioned, we dare not believe, "Why not?" because nothing ever changes, the politicians are all the same, they just come in different packages.
Well, not today, America. Today, a candidate said, "Not this time. This time we talk about it." We talk about that 800 pound gorilla in the room. We don't dust it off, slap a suit on it, and throw a hand organ in its arms. No, today we look at it just the way it is, with its ugly hairy face, smelly breath and nasty behind, and we talk. "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected," a candidate said today. "A single moment of recognition between [a] young white girl and [an] old black man," that is where this candidate begins.
We can focus on what divides us and lament the wasted promise of the past, or we can face our past head on and come together in the future. This is what can happen for us, America. This is what we can become. If America truly strives for greatness, it cannot remain a place of "us against them." America must fulfill the dream and become the place of "we."
Today is the day when "we" get a second chance.
Read the complete transcript of Barack Obama's "More Perfect Union" Speech here and listen with the full audio file .
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
History was made today.