Barack Obama’s Keynote Address in Support of John Kerry

With the last two posts being on John Kerry and Barack Obama, it is worth recalling that John Kerry was one of the first to recognize Obama’s promise in inviting him to give the Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In return, Obama recognized many of John Kerry’s fine qualities. It is worth remembering that speech today:

Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Dick Durbin. You make us all proud.

On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, Land of Lincoln, let me express my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention.

Tonight is a particular honor for me because – let’s face it – my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.

While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton’s army, marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through FHA, and later moved west all the way to Hawaii in search of opportunity.

And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter. A common dream, born of two continents.

My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.

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. That we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted at least, most of the time.

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our 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.

And fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents – I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father that I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.

Now don’t get me wrong. The people I meet – in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks – they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead – and they want to.

Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted, by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.

Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn – they know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.

People don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.

They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

In this election, we offer that choice. Our Party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. And that man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and service because they’ve defined his life. From his heroic service to Vietnam, to his years as a prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available.

His values – and his record – affirm what is best in us. John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded; so instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he offers them to companies creating jobs here at home.

John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves.

John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies, or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.

John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties, nor use faith as a wedge to divide us.

And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world war must be an option sometimes, but it should never be the first option.

You know, a while back, I met a young man named Shamus [Seamus?] in a VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two, six-three, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines, and was heading to Iraq the following week. And as I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, the absolute faith he had in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all that any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he is serving us?

I thought of the 900 men and women – sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who won’t be returning to their own hometowns. I thought of the families I’ve met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were Reservists.

When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

Now let me be clear. 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. John Kerry knows this.

And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure.

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’re all connected as one people.

If there is 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 drugs, and has 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 sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one 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, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a 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 in 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?

John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism here – the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. 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 young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds. 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.

I believe that we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us.

America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do – if we do what we must do, then I have no doubts that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.

Thank you very much everybody. God bless you. Thank you.

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15 Comments

  1. 1
    Probus says:

    This was a very well written speech and it reminds us all of why Sen. Kerry was the right leader 2 years ago and why he would make a good president in 2008.

  2. 2
    Christopher says:

    Obama is the darling of the moment. Every presidential election cycle has one; Reagan in 1979, Clinton in 1991 and the Mofo from Midland in 1999.

    But many policy questions remain unanswered about Obama.

    Is he anti-gay marriage equity as charged? Where does stand on abortion and Roe? How about eliminating the Part D donut hole robbing seniors and the disabled of much needed savings? Afirmative Action and prosecuting members of the Bush junta?

    Yes, he’s the star of the moment and every presidential cycle has one, but Obama must stop playing it safe and expand and clarify his positions. The last thing we need is an anti-Hillary who is more Hillary than Hillary.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Christopher,

    Actually Obama has answered all those questions in his book and public statements. For example, he supports civil unions, opposed the federal ammendment against gay marriage as political pandering to the right wing, but unfortunately would leave actual decisions on gay marriage to the states. Not ideal but comparable to the position of many Democrats. He supports abortion rights. He has spoken about providing a real Medicare drug benefit, along with universal health care.

    While he has answered the questions you raised, he has still not been as specific yet as I’d like. For example, calling for universal health care leaves open quite a few questions as in this case the specifics of how it is done are crucial.

  4. 4
    Christopher says:

    Ron,

    Thanks for the info. I haven’t read Barack’s book.

    I based my statement on his http://www.senate.gov/obama website which was, in my humble opinion, rather skimpy issue-wise.

    Vis a vis gay marriage equity, well, he’s head to head with Queen Hillary, Cousin Kerry, and MBNA Biden. All of whom I detest.

    This is why Sen. Russ Feingold’s decision to sit out ’08 was so disappointing to me and many in community.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Christopher,

    It is understandable that you would prefer marriage as opposed to civil unions but sometimes it is better to take 90% of what you want. Making gay marriage the issue leads to Republicans getting away with their recent amendments. Polls showed that many who have voted for the anti-gay marriage amendments would accept civil unions.

    Also keep in mind that Kerry’s definition of civil unions goes beyond most definitions. He’s insisted that any legislation which bans gay marriage but allows civil unions ensure that the civil unions allow all the rights of marriage. As a consequence he has opposed all laws restricting gay marriage as they have not met his definition of civil unions. During the 2004 campaign Bill Clinton advised Kerry to support the ammendments banning gay marriage where they were on the ballot to pick up votes. Kerry refused to go along out of principle.

  6. 6
    Christopher says:

    It is understandable that you would prefer marriage as opposed to civil unions but sometimes it is better to take 90% of what you want.

    I attended a private fundraiser in Manhattan for governor-elect Eliot Spitzer last spring and this topic was discussed with a group of fairly wealthy, well-connected gay political types.

    One man (the owner of the beautiful apartment hosting the event) was in his late-60’s. He fell into the category who I call “one of my elders.” He was actually at Stonewall the night the NYC cops commenced their violent raid and beat and even killed gay men who dared to gather together in their own establishment. Anyway, he too said what you just wrote, about accepting civil unions, 90% of full gay marriage equity was better than nothing.

    It was difficult to make him see that what civil unions really amounted to was nothing short of separate, but equal. I reminded him that back in the 1950’s, black law students attending the University of Texas at Austin’s law school were told something very similar. It resulted in them accorded admission, but they couldn’t attend classes in the same facility as white law students, nor did they have a law library or even air conditioning.

    The point is, for far too long, Democratic politicians have been all too happy to ask for our time, creativity, energy and of course, our money, but when push comes to shove and their Republican counterparts make threats, our so-called supporters tossed us under the bus and said, “it’s too soon, not now.”

    As Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, you do better.”

    We know better. It’s not “too soon.” The time is now and nothing short of full, gay marriage equity is acceptable.

    Oh, and when Eliot Spitzer was elected governor last month of my home state of New York, he did so on the wings of a platform of supporting gay marriage.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Christopher,

    The analogy to separate but equal on racial issues is a poor analogy. Separate but equal was never equal, but was a way to perpetuate inequality. In contrast, civil unions are a reform designed to remedy an injustice. Separate but equal was designed to perpetuate inequality indefinately. The goal of using civil unions is to ulitmately have total equality. The point is not to “settle” for civil unions but use them to ultimately get everything you want.

    In a perfect society, and perhaps even in New York, it would make sense to push for gay marriage. The reality in most of the country is that gay marriage is a wedge issue which allows right wing politicians to restrict rights further. Pushing for gay marriage means getting zero in most states.

    Civil unions allows the rights of marriage and, perhaps more importantly, decreases the separation. Many people who still oppose gay marriage are generally willing to live and let live. If such people see that society doesn’t collapse when we have civil unions, they will ultimately not care if civil unions are changed to marriage. Alternatively many proponents of civil unions want to get government out of marriage entirely and use civil unions as the norm to provide the legal rights now provided by marriage. Either way civil unions can be used to achieve full equality.

    If you can get gay marriage passed, fine. Unfortuantely most of the country is not New York. Saying “not now” isn’t just idle talk. We saw what the political effect of all those anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot. By seeking 100% purity we took a huge step backwards, when in contrast we could have moved forwards by promoting civil unions.

  8. 8
    Christopher says:

    Ron,

    What you don’t understand about the struggle for gay rights could fill an ocean.

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    Christopher,

    That’s hardly a meaningful rebuttal of anything I’ve said.

    Granted those of you personally involved are going to have more first handknowledge. However sometimes being too close to an issue can be an impediment to achieving political success.

  10. 10
    Probus says:

    The photo of the convention floor and Sen. Kerry on the wide screen brings back good memories for me. It was the first time I had heard the senator speak. His speech was much better than the speech by Obama, it was more emotional and powerful. I hope they hold the convention in Denver instead of NY City, it is after all Sen. Kerry’s birth place. Colorado did so well in the midterm elections by choosing a dem governor and electing dem majorities in both state houses. I don’t know what was the last time the dems had a convention in the south or particularly the southwest. Hopefully Chairman Dean will do the right thing and pick Denver.

  11. 11
    Christopher says:

    Ron,

    I don’t have the time or interest in getting you up to speed on the issue of gay marriage.

    As a blogger who calls his blog, Liberal Values Blog, what you might want to do is try to educate yourself more thoroughly on the topic. This would help you appear less obtuse and more informed.

    Otherwise, the name you’ve chosen for your blog will just seem ironic.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    Christopher,

    Such non-replies only demonstrate the fact that my suggestions on strategy are not easily refuted. Keep in mind that it is strategy we are talking about, ie the best way to ultimately achieve legalization of gay marriage.

    Politics is about achieving goals while you seem set on a course for defeat. Your “strategy” is to repeatedly attack people like John Kerry who has one of the highest scores on support for gay issues in Congress, and now to attack a fellow supporter of legalized gay marriage such as myself. Is that any way to achieve victory?

    By stressing gay marriage you’ve allowed the right wing to turn it into a wedge issue which has moved the cause backwards. Often in politics victory is achieved based upon what we name things. Republicans got no where with opposition to inheritance taxes on the wealthy until the came up with the idea of renaming it the death tax. They push legislation to allow more pollution by calling in clean air initiatives. They realize that the names we use for policies is crucial.

    In many states such as Michigan, voters support civil unions but oppose gay marriage. This is far from perfect, but you must consider whether achieving rights or having the right label is what is most important.

    Under your strategy anti-gay marriage amendments are being passed and rights are being restricted even more. In contrast, if the push was for civil unions we could have had them already legalized in several states. Your strategy gives little hope for legalization of gay marriage in other than a handful of the most liberal states. In contrast, if civil unions were the norm I bet that most objections to gay marriage would disappear over the next decade and the final distinctions could be eliminated without much objection.

    A workable stragegy to achieve legalization of gay marriage is hardly obtuse, uninformed, or non-liberal as you suggest.

  13. 13
    kj says:

    I sorta pine for another convention in Boston. Gawd, that was perfect. *big smile*

  14. 14
    kj says:

    Christopher,

    Please don’t go there, you know, the place where if someone doesn’t agree with your solution 100%, they shouldn’t think they promote liberal values.

    I have no history, other than reading “And The Band Played On” by Randy Shilts decades ago, what the gay rights struggle has entailed. What I do have history with is how effective the gay marriage issue plays in rural red when it comes down to who votes which party into power.

    I’ll gladly welcome you educating me on the struggle for gay rights, just as I listened to those people in Boston who were unhappy with Kerry’s stand on transgender issues. Education is a good thing, I welcome the chance to learn more about injustice based on, well, based on anything that defines someone as “different” than someone else.

    I might however, and again, this is based on where I live in this country and the experiences I’ve had with rural red voters, choose to support a more pragmatic solution than you would support. And since this is a conversation I know Ron has thought and written about for years (this was a huge topic on the Kerry blog in times past), my suggestion to you would be to read, carefully, what Ron has written.

    I’m an Irish and an Aries, for whatever that’s worth, but even I know sometimes a full out assault isn’t the best approach to achieve the ends I want to achieve.

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    You are looking at this from the prespective of rural red, where the argument is even greater. Even in Michigan gay marriage is a successful wedge issue for the Republicans. The difference is that in Michigan we could probably have civil unions, and at very least could have a better legal situation for same sex partners if the issue wasn’t framed specifically as gay marriage. I’m not sure if even civil unions would fly in rural red.

    In Michigan polls showed that many of the people who voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment would not have done so if they realilzed the degree to which it also restricted civil unions and things such as insurance benefits to same sex partners. However we all know that most people pay little attention to the specifics of ballot iniatives. As long as they could frame it a decision purely on gay marriage the Republicans were going to win. At least in Michigan this didn’t lead to an over whelming number of conservative Republcans voting Republicans in every where. If not for those gay marriage amendments, it is certainly possible that Kerry would have won in 2004, and it might have also made a difference in Congressional elections in some states.

    The problem of people who demand 100% agreement on their pet issue is going to be greater when the Democrats are in power. It was easy to achieve a consensus that the Republicans were screwing everything up and to get opposition. There will be far less concensus on the specifics of what should be done. I fear we are going to see far more people following the path of writing off others. Of course we already saw plenty of that during the Kerry campaign as you noted.

    There is also a difference between looking at positions and tactics. In Kerry’s case it is a difference in position, however it is rather trivial. For the most part in Kerry’s case we are looking at a difference between his personal religious views and what he proposes politically. He might oppose gay marriage personally, but politically he has also opposed any attempts to restrict it.

    In my case, the difference is simply one of tactics–a disagreement not over whether gay marriage should be legal but the best way to accomplish this long term, as well as reducing legal discrimination until full legalization of gay marriage is possible.

    On the one hand, it is rather absurd to write off someone as being an allie, or as being liberal, for proposing a different political tactic. Of course in my case it hardly matters. I use Liberal in Liberal Values in a more classical sense as opposed to taking a long term side on the current political divide. If Democrats go off more on a big government course and emphasize civil liberties less, and if simultaneously the Republicans reform and the libertarian wing wins out on civil liberties, they truly support free market principles as opposed to corporate welfare and using the free market as an excuse to allow abuses of the system, and if they cease to support a foreign policy which undermines our national security and harms this country, then I could see supporting the Repubicans over the Democrats in the future. Of course this would require a lot of changes on the part of the Republicans.

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