Obama gave the best speech of his presidency
Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Selma March. It was commemorated at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by thousands of people, members of Congress, original march participants, George W. Bush and Laura Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama and the first black president of the United States.
Bush was probably only there because he missed the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Dream Speech, but the occasion’s importance was hammered home by the presence of Obama. And the man gave one fuck of a king-hell, barn-burning, bastard of a speech.
There are two types of Obama speeches. There are the detached, analytical ones, that are full of gray areas, nuance, and vagueness. And the ones that are so passionate, all-encompassing, and perfected plotted that they reach into people’s hearts and trigger that sense of American responsibility to fellow citizens. Saturday’s was the latter. Obama hasn’t given a speech like that since his second inauguration. It was his best since the 2008 Democratic National Convention and maybe better than the one that launched him to stardom in 2004. But it was definitely his most important and energized as president. And being introduced by John Lewis didn’t hurt either.
He talked about how civil rights fit into the same narrative as the founding of the nation, gay rights, the progressive movement in general, and how the historical debts owed to those who marched and were beaten in Selma should act as a positive burden for a new generation. He even touched on the insanely racist behavior found in last week’s Justice Department report on police conduct in Ferguson. He combined the need to change unsustainable and wrong ways of doing things to American Exceptionalism itself and the never-ending struggle to improve the nation as a whole.
He even made an epic veiled reference to his own detractors when he spoke of the original Selma activists: “As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.”
And then he threw in the kicker. “And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?” Obama continued. “What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course? What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”
Saturday was a great reminder of why Obama is the greatest orator and politician since JFK and the day wouldn’t have felt the same, or had the same historical significance with a President Romney standing at the podium. You know what? I’m just going to stop typing and let the president speak for himself.