In speech, Obama looks to be a uniter

Addressing supporters in North Carolina on Tuesday night, Barack Obama was back to familiar messages about post-partisanship, unity and change.

Alex Koppelman
May 7, 2008 5:54AM (UTC)

Barack Obama's surrogates were dancing on Hillary Clinton's grave Tuesday night. But in his speech for the night, Obama himself was a uniter, not a divider -- at least when it came to the Democratic Party.

Obama did get in a couple of jabs at Clinton, but for the most part his message was conciliatory, and aimed at bringing together the Democratic Party -- and the American people generally -- to change the country and, of course, to guarantee a Democratic victory over presumptive Republican John McCain this fall.


"Tonight, many of the pundits have suggested that this party is inalterably divided -- that Senator Clinton's supporters will not support me, and that my supporters will not support her," Obama said. "I'm here tonight to tell you that I don't believe it ... This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country ... We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term."

The speech was also a way for Obama to get over the fighting that has dominated the Democratic race recently, and return to the message of post-partisanship that has been so successful for him in the past. And at times, Obama's speech was exceedingly sharp in how it dealt with the questions about Obama's patriotism that are already being brought up in some corners on the right. "We believe that we have a larger responsibility to one another as Americans, that America is a place -- that America is the place -- where you can make it if you try," Obama said. (A Sly and the Family Stone reference? I, for one, hope so.) Obama also used his own family history to make his point about the U.S., saying:

This is the country that gave my grandfather a chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill when he came home from World War II, a country that gave him and my grandmother the chance to buy their first home with a loan from the government.

This is the country that made it possible for my mother -- a single parent who had to go on food stamps at one point -- to send my sister and me to the best schools in the country on scholarships.

This is the country that allowed my father-in-law -- a city worker at a South Side water filtration plant -- to provide for his wife and two children on a single salary. This is a man who was diagnosed at age 30 with multiple sclerosis -- who relied on a walker to get himself to work. And yet, every day he went, and he labored, and he sent my wife and her brother to one of the best colleges in the nation. It was a job that didn't just give him a paycheck, but a sense of dignity and self-worth. It was an America that didn't just reward wealth, but the work and the workers who created it ...

[The promise of America] is the light of opportunity that led my father across an ocean.

It is the founding ideals that the flag draped over my grandfather's coffin stands for -- it is life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Finally, included in his message of post-partisanship was a plea for a different kind of race -- a break from the kinds of distractions that have hampered Obama's campaign recently -- but a recognition that the other side might not play along. Obama told his cheering supporters:

We know what's coming. We've seen it already. The same names and labels they always pin on everyone who doesn't agree with all their ideas. The same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives by pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy in the hope that the media will play along ... This is what they will do -- no matter which one of us is the nominee. The question, then, is not what kind of campaign they'll run, it's what kind of campaign we will run. It's what we will do to make this year different. I didn't get into race thinking that I could avoid this kind of politics, but I am running for president because this is the time to end it.

We will end it this time not because I'm perfect -- I think by now this campaign has reminded all of us of that ... We will end it by telling the truth -- forcefully, repeatedly, confidently -- and by trusting that the American people will embrace the need for change ...

So don't ever forget that this election is not about me, or any candidate. Don't ever forget that this campaign is about you -- about your hopes, about your dreams, about your struggles, about securing your portion of the American dream.

Don't ever forget that we have a choice in this country -- that we can choose not to be divided, that we can choose not to be afraid, that we can still choose this moment to finally come together and solve the problems we've talked about all those other years in all those other elections.

This time can be different than all the rest. This time we can face down those who say our road is too long, that our climb is too steep, that we can no longer achieve the change that we seek. This is our time to answer the call that so many generations of Americans have answered before -- by insisting that by hard work, and by sacrifice, the American dream will endure.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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