"We are ready to believe again"

Obama, Huckabee sound themes of hope and change after victories in Iowa.

By Tim Grieve
January 4, 2008 8:59AM (UTC)
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If you read transcripts of the speeches delivered tonight by Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama, you could be excused for thinking that the two men had engaged in some kind of political mind meld after winning the Iowa caucuses. The Republican spoke of hope, of change, of the need to end the partisan divide and bring Americans together. The Democrat spoke of hope, of change, of the need to end the partisan divide and bring Americans together.

One man said that the challenge ahead is to "bring this country back together, to make Americans more proud to be Americans than to be Democrats and Republicans." The other man said that Iowa voters came together tonight, "Democrats, Republicans and independents, to stand up and say, 'We are one nation, we are one people, and our time for change has come.'"


If you didn't watch, it would be hard to say which was which.

If you did watch, you don't have any doubt.

Huckabee delivered his words in the style of the man he wants to be -- as he put it yesterday, a "presidential candidate" who reminds voters "more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off." The former Baptist minister was folksy and matter of fact, even when he talked of Americans' "greatest hopes and dreams and aspirations." He said he and his supporters have "deep convictions," but he didn't say anything about what they might be. He joked about the negative ads he's faced and about the amount of time his daughter has spent in Iowa.


Obama? He was finally the man we all remember from the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

After finally quieting a screaming crowd, Obama portrayed this January night in 2008 as a seminal moment in American history. He never said explicitly that his victory in Iowa tonight puts an African-American closer to the White House than ever before. But everything about his words -- everything about the way he delivered them -- made that point so clearly. "They said they said this day would never come," Obama said as he began. By the time he finished, he was invoking memories of the civil rights struggle, of the freedom marches, of Selma, Alabama. Earlier tonight, John Edwards invoked the words of John F. Kennedy. Again and again in his own speech, Obama adopted the cadence of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It may be impossible to convey the power of Obama's performance in words on a screen. Video of the speech will be online soon if it isn't already. Watch it if you didn't tonight. Until then, Obama's long close -- or is it a beginning? -- will have to do:


"This was the moment when we tore down barriers that have divided us for too long; when we rallied people of all parties and ages to a common cause; when we finally gave Americans who have never participated in politics a reason to stand up and to do so," Obama said. "This was the moment when we finally beat back the policies of fear and doubts and cynicism, the politics where we tear each other down instead of lifting this country up.

"Years from now, you'll look back and you'll say that this was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope. For many months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.


"It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.

"Hope is what I saw in the eyes of the young woman in Cedar Rapids who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can't afford health care for a sister who's ill. A young woman who still believes that this country will give her the chance to live out her dreams.

"Hope is what I heard in the voice of the New Hampshire woman who told me that she hasn't been able to breathe since her nephew left for Iraq. Who still goes to bed each night praying for his safe return.


"Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire. What led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. What led young women and young men to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause.

"Hope -- hope is what led me here today. With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America.

"Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.


"That is what we started here in Iowa and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond.

"The same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can save this country, brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand -- that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

"Because we are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. And in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Mike Huckabee War Room