I watched the Democratic National Convention last week with a sense of nostalgia. I hadn’t seen the Dems this pumped since Clinton/Gore. For the first time in a long time, the party actually pulled it off: Hillary and Bill got on board; Kerry delivered the speech he should have delivered four years ago; Al Gore was polished, but he should have paused just a bit more. But Biden, Biden delivered big time for Barack Obama and set the stage for the Thursday night speech that ran 42 minutes and left this full-time cynic actually willing to believe again. More people tuned in to watch this man speak than watched the opening of the Olympics, and that alone should tell you something. The first outdoor acceptance speech since JFK was predicted to be light on substance and heavy on political rhetoric, in other words, dream-filled and abstract.
Obama’s speech was packed with proposed policy details, specifically the country’s current economic crisis. It was bold and liberal and unifying. His speech contained strong statements such as this: “We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe.” I actually got chills. Remarkable. In a less effective speaker’s hands, the words would not have had such a dramatic effect.
The man is a born orator, the kind this country hasn’t seen since JFK. He knows how to reach beyond rhetoric and touch the hearts of the common man and woman who are aching to hear something that will give them something to cling to. Like this: “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this . . . We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.”
I know that I want to be part of a better country than the American of these last eight years. I know that I do not want another four years of the same, no matter how honorable McCain is as a person. We need more than a man who is respected by many people because of his past deeds but who believes that America is on the right track. And Obama was clearly aware of this difference by targeting McCain’s policies in his speech, but never attacking the man himself.
And for those who still want to believe in some type of American Dream, hold on to this:
“You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.
“We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.
“And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.”
The American Dream may have been lost for a while. We may have forgotten how to dream because we were so busy just trying to make do in this harsh reality that has been our lives–the lives in which milk costs $6 a gallon and bread almost $2 a loaf; health insurance is a luxury for many, and dental insurance is completely out of reach. City public schools have classroom sizes of up to 40. A college education without assistance for most families is not possible. The infant mortality rate for the U.S. still ranks with some third world countries. Some of our warriors are on their third tour of duty in Iraq. Foreclosures on homes continue to rise, as do the number of bankruptcies. Families in which both parents work, forcing more latchkey children, continue to become the necessity, not the exception. Three years after Katrina, we still have people who have not been helped. So tell me, is it any wonder that our dreams have taken a back seat? The have-nots far outnumber the haves, yet those who continue to live with platinum parachutes and bypass paying taxes through loopholes don’t have to wonder about the price of gas, bread, or milk, and health insurance is hardly a concern.
Yet the intrepid doers still hold on. We still put out our flags on Memorial Day and the 4th of July because something in us continues to believe in this country of ours. And with luck, perhaps more people than ever will exercise their right to vote this November, instead of taking that right for granted. I don’t care if they are voting because they don’t want a black man as president or a woman as vice president. At least they are participating in the process, and that is their right, whether or not I agree with their choice.
But dammit, at least they have that right, and with any luck, maybe they’ll have a taste of a new American Dream, or at least a remembrance of the old one. We deserve that. We all deserve that. It is not too much to hope for. I refuse to believe that.