Wednesday, November 05, 2008


It was a speech about national unity and national service. It really didn't cover any new ground, exploring the themes of hope and change and that famous "yes we can" slogan, just as it did before. He talked about "United States" instead of "red and blue states", and really seemed to do the normal reach-across-the-aisle rhetoric. I suspect he may believe it, though he has to have been affected by the viciousness of the Republicans' attacks.

It did focus on Americans coming together to beat challenges, though. His habit of relating policies and slogans to ordinary people expressed itself this time as a reference to Ann Nixon Cooper.

And who is she?

But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

(The "yes we cans" worked better orally.)

I don't think it was necessarily as good an address as the one from his nomination acceptance, but I don't think that's what it was about, either. I think this was more about bringing people back to Kennedy's dictum to "not think of what your country can do, but what you can do for your country." It was about jettisoning "screw you, Jack, I got mine" and getting people to believe in common action again.

And you know what? As a liberal, and a progressive, I'll support anybody who works to make people think about common action. It's necessary, and it's right.

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