Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Plus, His Name is Great Fodder for Headline Puns

Everyone's raving about Barack Obama's speech last night at the Democratic Convention. Everyone -- liberals and conservatives. It goes to show, I think, how refreshed most people in this country are (and not just white people) to find an emerging leader from a minority background who has a transcendant message, who can win without the cheat of gerrymander districting, who can make a color-blind appeal past the cycle of guilt-mongering. His ancestors were in Africa while those of most American blacks were in slavery.

I was working, so I didn't hear his speech with the full force. I wish I had; I love the pulpit style, it's one of the great rhetorical arts of the human experience. But I've read the speech. I hope Obama wrote this himself. It's wonderful:

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.

Yes! Can anything be more appealing to someone whose sense of America's present is rooted in its history? And, to top it off, he said the thing I've been waiting for John Kerry to prove he knows:

Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued – and they must be defeated.

To which he added, "John Kerry knows this." I like Mr. Obama. But with all due respect, I'm not going to take his word for it on something as important as this. I need to be convinced by the man himself.

One of the most thoughtful blog posts today is this one from Dean Esmay, one of the writers in this medium who can earn respect of both liberals and conservatives. He looks ahead to America after the (hypothetical, but possible) election of John Kerry. All the problems and challenges remain. Conservatives/Republicans (and that would include me) have tended to condemn many liberals/Democrats as being more focused on humiliating and defeating the incumbent party than in dealing with the serious crisis of terrorism and uniting in a time of war.

What happens when the positions are reversed? Esmay writes, "I do find myself wondering: how many of you on the right will embrace such a philosophy if John Kerry should carry the election in November? ... How many of you will have the patriotism to say, 'I disagree with many of his policy directions, I do not think he is conducting our foreign policy in the right way, but I will do my best to get behind him and support him until elections come around next time?' "

I'm genuinely curious. For that is the stance I intend to take. I will refuse to call him traitor, loser, liar, incompetent. He will be my President, my Commander In Chief, the Chief Executive of a great nation, elected by the will of a majority of the electors in these 50 great united States. So even if he does things I disagree with in conducting foreign policy, I will say, "I respectfully disagree with the President's directions, but I will do my best to express my dissent respectfully and hope that I am mistaken and that he has made the proper decisions after all."

That's my pledge. How many of you will take a similar one?

OK, I'm down with that, though I'm not necessarily the audience he is addressing. Anybody else?

The very conservative Hugh Hewitt, for instance, writing from the convention, is staking out the hostility in terms that you might get used to hearing if the 2004 election ends up like that of 1992.

The delegates and their nominee are hard-left – the most left-wing convention in American political history. The talking points all stress happy faces and lowered voices, but Michael Moore is the crown prince of this assembly, even as it prepares to give John Kerry a blessing. ... The delegates hate Bush, want out of Iraq, want courts to impose same-sex marriage, and want taxes hiked on all but the poorest Americans. The policy on abortion rights is absolutist; on race-based remedies, the answer hasn't changed since 1978 – quotas by any other name will do.

I played a game on the radio show yesterday, the convention's first day. We played a version of Groucho Marx's "secret word." We were prepared to declare a winner when the first Democrat I interviewed mentioned al-Qaida. None did. It just isn't an issue with them. The consensus seems to be that if Bush is beaten, al-Qaida will no longer threaten Americans.

And he writes of another groups of Americans, the ones who turn up in long lines at his book-signings. "I think this group has begun to move into the political conflict, convinced that the war needs fighting and winning, and outraged at the Moore gang's hostility to all that America stands for. The left wanted another Vietnam, thinking they'd win the domestic battle again. But what they may have brought about is the mobilization of another, stronger, larger silent majority."

A democracy can only work if the people's commitment to being a democracy is greater than their passion for one or another political position. The direct dangers are demagogues and tyrants and mobs, but the root of the evil is a fanaticism that insists they can't be trusted with the government, and we're better off with a bloody revolution or a martial law dictatorship than allowing them to rule.

This commitment to democracy must be kept -- even if the other side has jettisoned it. Once a nation has lost that, reach for your gun. Our national rituals include gracious concession speeches and defeated incumbents riding to inaugurations beside victors. The Greeks would have understood the desperate importance of that.

More from Obama:

It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

Now 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 is the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America — there is the United States of America.

The pundits, 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 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 have gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

It's what used to be boilerplate in political rhetoric. It's not a platform, and it's not a program, and it's fuzzy as a milkweed pod, but we need to keep telling ourselves stuff like this.