top of page

The Speech I Wanted To Hear

We've all seen how it really played out. But then there is the victory speech in an alternate reality that I desperately wanted to hear. Imagine the following scene with me, if you will:

Marine One (the presidential helicopter) lands amid a fury of fireworks in the middle of Grant Park in Chicago. President Obama is wearing a full flight-suit as he struts from the LZ up onto a stage already occupied by Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z (together to debut their duet Born in the USA 2.0). As he makes his way behind the podium, George Clooney unveils a giant "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner.

Breaking away from a hugging mob that includes Bill Clinton, Matt Damon, Nelson Mandela, and an interactive Gandhi hologram... Mr. Obama smiles, ear-to-ear. He calms the crowd with his repeated "thank you's" and makes his way through that long list of campaign staff, volunteers, and voters that made the night possible.

The President then thanks Governor Romney for his particularly gracious call just minutes before and more generally congratulates him on a race well run. With formalities now out of the way, Mr. Obama speaks directly to the crowd. Attempting a bit of humour, he claims that what he has to say is meant to stay between he and the tens of thousand of souls that braved the Chicago cold on this November night.

Having successfully run his final campaign, The President is free to launch into his greatest hits.

"We are the ones that we have been waiting for."
"Words matter."
"This is our moment."
"Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?"
"[L]et us summon a new spirit of patriotism ... not only ourselves but each other."
"[T]ogether we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds ... on the path of a more perfect union."

Unrepentant, unafraid, and without qualification Obama delivers the sort of sweeping rhetoric that moves some to tears and others to action.

He acknowledges that the campaign road was rough, divisive, and sometimes embarrassing -- but insists that the future is bright (without necessarily being easy). Pulling a handful of lines directly from a concession speech he delivered in January, 2008, the President again insists that "We can."

That "[I]n the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people -- Yes we can."

And going back to dissect a point that somehow got lost along the way he declares that the next four years have the chance to be different because,

"[I]t's not just about what I will do as President, it's also about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it."

As everyone in the crowd gets caught up in this self-congratulatory fervour, the President's tone makes a clear departure from the current festivities. In a more solemn spirit, he clarifies that what he is talking about isn't victory and momentum. Rather, that "Yes we can" is a statement of responsibility that implicates all of us. Somewhere, somehow -- we & can were traded off for you & fault. On Inauguration Day 2009, the collective retreated into little more than a cult of personality around a freshly-inducted President. But moving forward, Obama refuses to accept this role. He will not be confined to the ego-building role of saviour. He insists that we operate as "we."

Together, we can move America forward. It won't be easy. It won't even be fun most of the time. But it will be good.

This we is going to have to reinvent public dialogue. We will have to get beyond talking points, talk radio, and toxic cable news. Because we need to relearn some elementary listening skills and infuse our conversations with a healthy dose of respect and patience. The path forward is long and the change will be slow. The process is fundamentally dialogical--meaning a ton of deep conversations stretching from morning coffee to after-work beers will be required.

The thousands that were wiling to knock on doors to get out the vote must now be willing to follow up with a dinner invitation to their neighbour. The work is far from done. The problems are many, and implications for missteps are both serious and global in nature. But the good news is that right here in America we have every skill and resource necessary for breakthrough. But in order to harness these talents and technologies, we cannot abdicate our responsibilities to another. We have to talk. We have to listen. And we have to raise our sights to the next generation.

It will not be easy. But it will be good.

I have a job to do, but so do you. We are the ones that we have been waiting for. So let's get to work.

God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.

bottom of page