OBAMA’S DEBUT

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 28 2004 @ 12:02am

I don’t know enough about Barack Obama to judge whether he will be a good senator on a range of issues, but from his speech tonight, it’s hard to think he anything but a stellar future. What he emphasized was another theme of this conservative convention: that the country must and can unite. It’s a brilliant maneuver to pose as (and exemplify, in some cases) a force to overcome the divisions within the country, divisions that make all of us frayed and often testy in a time of grave danger. America is deeply thirsty for a black leader who is first and foremost an American leader; and for any leader who can reach out to both sides of the culture war. Obama struck many conservative notes: of self-reliance, of opportunity, of hard work, of an immigrant’s dream, of the same standards for all of us. Which Republican couldn’t say exactly the following words:

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.

Burke in a sentence. Obama also found, I think, the best anti-war formulation for the Democrats. here it is:

When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never- ever- go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued – and they must be defeated.
John Kerry knows this.

So the anti-Bush argument is framed in terms of defending our troops. I also think that the term “shade the truth” is far more defensible rhetoric against the White House than the cant about lying and misleading the country. I still don’t believe there was any deliberate shading of any truth. But it’s a deft way of laying into the administration while not sounding like Michael Moore.

BEYOND RACE: Domestically, Obama’s appeal is even stronger. He framed his belief in government with a defense of self-reliance and conservative values. It’s a Clintonite formula, delivered with Blairite sincerity:

The people I meet – in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks – they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead – and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted, by a welfare agency or the Pentagon.
Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn – they know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.
No, people don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.
They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

Conservative values, Democratic compassion. In the constant churn and dialectic of American politics, this is a new fusion – and the Dems have found a young, racially diverse, eloquent voice. Can you think of any current Republican with that kind of fresh appeal and smart politics? Only Arnold comes close. The Republicans would love to have someone of Obama’s caliber – but they have failed to attract them. That is their tragedy, and it is only deepened in a party that gave rise to Trent Lott and Tom DeLAy. Obama is the Democrats’ hope. Heck, he is the hope for all of us.