August 28, 2008
Whose Voice Will Obama Use Thursday?
Will Obama deliver his acceptance speech with his own voice, or return to the oratorical style that permeated his primary victory speeches when he used the voice of Martin Luther King?
Thursday, Obama will speak on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Will he lean on King's style, or speak, as he did in Berlin, with his own voice?
The temptation to play off of MLK will be hard to resist. If he delivers a "My Dreams For America" speech, what might he say? Maybe these things:
He'll start by thanking his supporters and saying the victory is not his, but theirs. He'll heap praise on Hillary Clinton for running a strong and historic campaign. He'll thank his family for tolerating his absence during long months on the road. Finally, he'll tout the experience and wisdom that Joe Biden brings to the ticket. All appropriate and predictable.
He'll transition by telling the audience how they're part of history. Forty-five years ago, Dr. King could only imagine the day when an African-American accepted the presidential nomination of a major party, although, he'll add, King could have predicted it would be the Democratic Party.
Obama will, once again, tell the story of how he came to this place. Throughout his campaign he's emphasized the improbability of his candidacy and effectively leveraged his African-American race -- although he's half white -- against his thin resume. In so doing, he's implicitly applied the principles of affirmative action to his application for the world's most demanding job. And he did so with subtlety and finesse.
"My Dreams For America" would be a litany of how he'll apply his Change and Hope themes to the lives of ordinary Americans. Such as...
He dreams of a nation respected again by the world, and again looked upon as the moral leader of free nations, and those who dream of freedom.
He dreams of a United States of American that leads the world in preserving the earth by being the paradigm of responsible environmental citizenship, rather than an obstruction to saving the planet.
He dreams of a day when the world sees America not as a country engaged in a torturous and misguided war, but as the leader in bringing health and prosperity to the dark places where people live with little food and no hope.
Obama dreams of a nation where patriotic Baby Boomers are not relegated to golf courses in their retirement, but are offered opportunities to chart a course in service to their country by joining one of many new community service volunteer corps that his administration will develop, along with a doubling of the Peace Corps.
He dreams of a time when no American child is denied a world class education because of the poverty of their school district, and no child is assigned by the richest nation on earth to walk the "Corridors of Shame" in the many failing schools common to poor urban and rural areas.
Martin Luther King's speech was about Civil Rights. Obama will say that he's living proof of how much of what King once only dreamed about has come true. The new mission, he'll say, is to advance new human rights, like access to the best healthcare and affordable energy.
His dreams will be illustrated by brief anecdotal accounts of the pain the disadvantaged among us feel. By then, several stories of suffering will have been told from the convention platform. At some point, this suffering-Americans theme will be baptized by the biblical call to be our brother's keeper.
If he mentions McCain at all, he'll acknowledge him as an authentic American war hero. Then, quickly, the "but" that always follows will claim that McCain represents a Bush Third Term.
Republicans will, of course, be characterized as the party that cares only for the rich. That gives tax breaks mostly to the rich. That serves the interests of the rich first. And so on.
As footnotes, Obama will say we need to maintain a strong military, stay on alert against terrorists, and care for the wounded veterans of this misguided war.
He'll close with a call to join him, as many of all ages and colors once joined King, in making his, Obama's, dreams for America come true. For in changing America, he'll say, we can change the world.
It will be a stirring speech aided by carefully choreographed trappings - a skill refined by the Obama campaign.
The speech will be light on specifics, but acceptance speeches are seldom an occasion for specifics.
More than a few Americans are hungry for a President who moves their emotions with language. In that regard, Obama's speech will succeed. Even at that, the media that adores him will exaggerate the success.
The day after, when the giddy light-headedness of the moment has worn off, whatever Obama says will add up to more and bigger federal government and higher taxes, as once again a Democratic presidential nominee holds out the lure of a wise and benevolent centralized government, coordinating the nation's resources, and equalizing the fate of its citizens.
If this projection is near accurate, those of us who have lived through several election cycles will feel the déjà vu of old partisan accusations and grandiose promises, not unlike these:
It is time for America to move and to speak not with boasting and belligerence but with a quiet strength, to depend in world affairs not merely on the size of an arsenal but on the nobility of ideas....It is time for us to...expose the unwarranted pressure of lobbyists...It is time for a nationwide comprehensive health program for all our people.Peace is action to stamp out international terrorism...we will work for peace, until we have removed from all nations for all time the threat of nuclear destruction.We can have an America that has reconciled its economic needs with its desire for an environment that we can pass on with pride to the next generation." (Excerpts from Jimmy Carter's Acceptance Speech, July 15, 1976)____"Today, the rich are better off. But working Americans are worse off, and the middle class is standing on a trap door.What we have today is a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. And we're going to make a change in November.What happened was, he [Reagan] gave each of his rich friends enough tax relief to buy a Rolls Royce - and then he asked your family to pay for the hub caps.Then they socked it to workers. They encouraged executives to vote themselves huge bonuses - while using King Kong tactics to make workers take Hong Kong wages. (Excerpts from Walter Mondale's Acceptance Speech, July 19, 1984)_____"I have news for the forces of greed and the defenders of the status quo: Your time has come and gone. It's time for a change in America.He [Bush 41] won't take on the big insurance companies and the bureaucracies to control health costs and give us affordable health care for all Americans, but I will.He won't break the stranglehold the special interests have on our elections and the lobbyists have on our government, but I will.He won't take the lead in protecting the environment and creating new jobs in environmental technologies for the 21st century, but I will. And you know what else? He doesn't have Al Gore, and I do.We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. I still believe in a place called hope." (Excerpts from William Jefferson Clinton's Acceptance Speech, July 16, 1992)