By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And thus the Democrats got the perfect theme song for a candidate pledging a New Deal during the pit of the worst depression the nation had ever known, a theme song so resonant that it remained the party’s anthem straight through the ’70s. As of now, the Democrats have gone through the first day of their convention without falling into the valley of the shadow, hitting all the right notes and, with Clinton’s speech, sounding the absolutely right theme. Whether they are crafting an anthem that will last them for decades depends on, among other things, performances from John Kerry and John Edwards that are yet to come.
Keynoter Barack Obama, after regaling the delegates with a suitably modest rendition of his remarkable life on Tuesday night, settled into what quickly became the second great speech of the convention, following Clinton’s Monday masterpiece. Like Clinton, Obama took Bush and his thugs to task for creating and exploiting an America of cultural and political stereotypes. Obama, who shatters stereotypes merely by walking into a room, would have none of it. “We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States,” he said.
But the speech that Obama’s keynote most called to mind was another keynote, way back in 1984. The speaker then had only recently been elected governor of New York, and Mario Cuomo, like Obama, viewed his own emergence on the national stage as a breakthrough for an ethnic group (in Cuomo’s case, of course, Italian-Americans) and thereby an expansion of a growing and indivisible American democracy. Cuomo, like Obama, talked about poor children in the inner city. Cuomo called for a new emphasis on national solidarity, as did Obama.
Obama told the tales of white workers around Chicago who are losing their jobs to outsourcing. What he didn’t say is that these workers live in what once were ferociously racist suburbs, but that his own uncanny ability to transcend racial constraints and become a tribune for these workers has won him their support, both in this spring’s senatorial primary and now in the polling that has made him the prohibitive favorite to win election to the Senate in November.
And Obama dared to go where more fair-weather liberals would stand back. “If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process,” he declared, “that threatens my civil liberties.” The delegates, almost entirely liberals on good behavior through November, rose to their feet and roared. With Obama, liberals can be liberals and still not feel marginal.
Obama, with his compelling life story — son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, the troubled kid who ended up the president of the Harvard Law Review, the gifted young attorney who eschewed a high-dollar practice for a life as a community organizer and academic lecturer, the liberal state legislator who persuaded the state’s district attorneys and his GOP legislative colleagues to require the videotaping of all police interrogations of suspects in capital crimes — has already become the personification of a tolerant, miscegenistic, liberal American future. Of all the Democrats speaking this week against Bush’s divisiveness and for a more unified nation, Obama presents, in both his argument and his person, the most compelling case.