If I had drawn up a list four years ago of who would likely be the next president of the United States , the name Barack Obama would not have been on it. Up until July 27, 2004, I had never even heard of him. But on that day, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama introduced himself to me and to the rest of America when he delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that electrified the nation.
“I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation — not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy.
“Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“That is the true genius of America —a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles.”
A small miracle is about to happen on November 4. After 43 successive white Anglo Saxon American presidents (with two Irish American exceptions sprinkled among them), an African American is poised to be elected president of the United States .
In that 2004 keynote speech, he said: “‘E pluribus unum.’ Out of many, one…. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America .... We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America …. I’m not talking about blind optimism here…. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores…. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”
With the United States currently mired in the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression of 1929, the American people are about to place their faith and their fate in the man Colin Powell described as a “transformational leader”, the man who will provide the audacity of hope in the face of uncertainty.
The man who has been demonized by right-wing Republicans as a “Muslim” who is “palling around with terrorists” has a vision for “a more perfect union” which he described in a speech he delivered in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008.
“I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas . I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave-owners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
”It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.”
“…But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”
”For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances — for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.”
“…In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination — and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past — are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds — by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.”
E Pluribus Unum. Out of many presidential candidates, one. Out of many hopes and dreams, one. Out of many Americas, one.
Ladies and gentlemen of the world, President Barack Obama.