The rave notices garnered by Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention had already suggested that he was a politician with an exceptionally bright future. And they had also moved more skeptical individuals like myself to wonder whether the packaging wasn't being put before the package. Still I was impressed, as I wrote in an entry at the time:
I suppose that many of the complaints that have been made about the diffuse quality of Obama's rhetoric can be traced back to his preference for imagery that a five-year-old can comprehend. One of the things I have learned as a parent is that small children are a lot more abstract than their grown-up counterparts. For the most part, the maturation process, if you can call it that, involves learning to second guess our impulse to draw sweeping conclusions, even when it's precisely those sort of conclusions that need to be drawn.
I taped the Democratic National Convention for proto-Tivo viewing today. Hearing from several progressive sources -- some of whom are good friends -- that Barack Obama's keynote address kicked serious ass, I cued it up this morning for me and Kim to watch before she went to work. Skylar was antsy and made the watching difficult, but we still got through it.
It was a good speech and good to see a person of color on stage. All the advance praise, though, had me wanting something a bit less safe. I suppose he was asked to be as centrist as possible, though, so I shouldn't fault him on that score. He's clearly going to be a big deal in American politics. He certainly has the vita and teaching experience for it. And the lines about "blue" and "red" states were as powerful as advertised:John Kerry believes in America. And he knows that it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.After Kim went to take her shower, Skylar asked me why he was talking about "blue states" and "red states," which necessitated coming up with a five-year-old-friendly description of both the federalist electoral college system and what happened during the 2000 Presidential election.
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.
If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.
If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
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's the United States of America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's 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, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?
"Was Arizona a blue state?," Skylar asked.
"No, it was a red state. We're hoping it will be a blue state this year. But George W. Bush has a good chance of winning again," I replied. "California and New York will probably be blue states, though. And Texas will be a red state, because Bush is from Texas and lots of people -- but not all of them -- like him there."
From there we moved on to a discussion of the convention whereby people say, "I don't like George W. Bush," when they really mean that they don't like what he has done as President. I then taught her the word "policy."
As I tried to capture the essence of Obama's speech for her, I realized that it did have the virtues of simplicity and optimism that resonate with five-year-olds. And, as I suggested in my recent entry about the Olympics, that's definitely a good thing. Whether we should worry that most grown-ups in the United States understand little more about politics than Skylar has already learned in 2004 is another question.
I do think the nation would be better off if voters realized that they were acting on the basis of a five-year-old's grasp of the issues, rather than pretending to themselves and others that they have a "mature" understanding of them. And that goes for the civics-deprived pundits on Fox News too.