Bill Clinton gave the best speech at the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. A policy wonk who can speak the language of the common people, his speech was meaty, substantive, folksy, forthright, driving a “rhetorical truck”, as someone said, through the opening left by Mitt Romney when he asked at the Republican national convention in Tampa, Florida, last week if Americans were better off today than four years ago. Clinton’s answer was a resounding “yes” .
“Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don’t feel it,” he said, adding: “President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No President – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the President’s contract you will feel it.”
Clinton in a class by himself – nobody can match him.
However, Barack Obama can always be counted on to give a good speech. The opening was homey, intimate:
Michelle, I love you. The other night, I think the entire country saw just how lucky I am. Malia and Sasha, you make me so proud…but don’t get any ideas, you’re still going to class tomorrow. And Joe Biden, thank you for being the best Vice President I could ever hope for.
The next few pars were not all that great compared with his signature “hope and change” stump speeches of four years ago. But he riffed on hope towards the end – and his performance then was masterly. There was even an echo of John F Kennedy in this paragraph – and from here on he was eloquent in his heart-felt eulogy to America and his fellow Americans.
We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.
So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change.
You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that.
You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible.
You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely: “Welcome home.”
If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.
Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.
I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention. The times have changed – and so have I.
I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President. I know what it means to send young Americans into battle, for I have held in my arms the mothers and fathers of those who didn’t return. I’ve shared the pain of families who’ve lost their homes, and the frustration of workers who’ve lost their jobs. If the critics are right that I’ve made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them. And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”
But as I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America. Not because I think I have all the answers. Not because I’m naive about the magnitude of our challenges.
I’m hopeful because of you.
The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter – she gives me hope.
The auto worker who won the lottery after his plant almost closed, but kept coming to work every day, and bought flags for his whole town and one of the cars that he built to surprise his wife – he gives me hope.
The family business in Warroad, Minnesota that didn’t lay off a single one of their four thousand employees during this recession, even when their competitors shut down dozens of plants, even when it meant the owners gave up some perks and pay – because they understood their biggest asset was the community and the workers who helped build that business – they give me hope.
And I think about the young sailor I met at Walter Reed hospital, still recovering from a grenade attack that would cause him to have his leg amputated above the knee. Six months ago, I would watch him walk into a White House dinner honouring those who served in Iraq, tall and twenty pounds heavier, dashing in his uniform, with a big grin on his face; sturdy on his new leg. And I remember how a few months after that I would watch him on a bicycle, racing with his fellow wounded warriors on a sparkling spring day, inspiring other heroes who had just begun the hard path he had traveled.
He gives me hope.
I don’t know what party these men and women belong to. I don’t know if they’ll vote for me. But I know that their spirit defines us. They remind me, in the words of Scripture, that ours is a “future filled with hope.”
And if you share that faith with me – if you share that hope with me – I ask you tonight for your vote.
If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.
If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.
If you believe that new plants and factories can dot our landscape; that new energy can power our future; that new schools can provide ladders of opportunity to this nation of dreamers; if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless these United States.
Here’s the full text of Obama’s speech and the video.