Give this to the Democrats – even if message control is sometimes a challenge, they sure know how to make a convention eventful. The day at Invesco Field was already like no other event I had ever attended before Obama spoke – standing in line from 10 A.M., I saw enthusiasm and excitement about democracy from such an enormous group of people (80,000), and the most special part about the night was that these 80,000 really were a diverse cross-section of the United States. Unlike just about every other event of the week, one did not need to be wealthy and/or powerful to get in and see the speech. And it was reflected well in the speeches immediately preceding Barack Obama’s, by working-class Americans who have fallen on hard times in the last eight years. Other notable early speeches included that of Al Gore (decent, but he spoke very quickly), Bill Richardson (great reception from the crowd), and a performance from Will.I.Am (awesome).
The main event, and the speech everyone was waiting for, however, was Obama’s, and for good reason. With the “open convention” and the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, the event was billed as a historic and landmark event. Obama could have given a purely soaring and intellectual speech similar to his discussions of race and national politics in previous instances, but he wisely realized that different times call for different approaches. Many voters are questioning where the “meat” behind his economic plans is, and thus, today he told voters “exactly what change would mean if I am president.” He then delved into specifics of reforming the tax code, eliminating capital gains for small businesses, tax cuts for the poor and middle class, tax hikes for the top 5%, and eliminating dependence on foreign oil. His hope, which seemed to be achieved, was that any voter watching would have a fairly clear understanding of how he would approach economic issues by the end of the speech.
He also delved into specifics on energy policy, foreign policy, and made sure to highlight the McCain-Bush connections for all they were worth. He came out tough and hardened, challenging that “If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.” Many have worried about Obama being a soft president, or relenting on his principles – after a week of Illinois delegation meetings, followed by this speech, I’m definitely convinced that a spine of steel is pretty much a necessary trait for anyone to succeed in Illinois politics.
Obama touched on a theme that is also one of Ashwin Madia’s favored lines of speaking, and that he had not discussed in a while. Madia is at his best when he speaks about “redefining patriotism,” and how patriotism is not merely “bumping your hands on your chest and waving a flag.” Madia is one of what I think of as the “Obama generation” of politicians who is inspired by a candidate who has the guts to say, “I’ve got news for you John McCain: We all put our country first.”
But when it came time to finish the speech, Obama returned to what he does best, and that was to inspire and motivate the listeners to work together for a better purpose. He discussed America’s promise, a subject that holds a special appeal to anyone who has immigrated, or whose parents have immigrated, to this country.
This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.
When Obama spoke to the crowd about America’s promise, he was certainly speaking to people such as my parents, who, young in India, saw and knew that only in America was there “that better place around the bend,” and who knew that their kids could do things in this country that they could do nowhere else. He was talking about the American Dream that has allowed our community to come here, flourish, and create a unique home. And he knows that this “American promise,” which has been the foundation for our flourishing and strong community, is eroding and must be restored and rebuilt.
Whether you agree with him or not, one of the most unique elements of Obama’s candidacy is that he knows our story, that of the American Dream, in a way few candidates for higher office ever have. As his biographical video played, he accepted the nomination, and then invoked King’s speech and dream at the conclusion, many of the young and old in the crowd who had never thought a man with his name, appearance, and background could be in this position had tears in their eyes.