Obama's Speech: More Nixon Than Kennedy?
What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.
Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.
That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.
Compare that with Kennedy's "New Frontier" philosophy from his 1960 acceptance speech:
Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment; for the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier -- the frontier of the 1960's, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.
Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges.
It sums up not what I intend to offer to the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride -- It appeals to our pride, not our security. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.
The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.
Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric -- and those who prefer that course should not vote for me or the Democratic Party.
I think Kennedy's recognition of struggle and acknowledgement that "the battles are not all won" is what sets his speech and stated philosophy apart from Obama's. Barack's "post-partisanship" persona attempts explicitly to minimize the need for "battle" in order to create social change.
Barack's speech was thus historic only in that it was delivered by the first African-American to accept a major party's nomination for president. But philosophically, it continued the Democratic Party's depressing march backward to Republican-lite moderation. Richard Nixon's acceptance of the Republican nomination in 1960 contains themes that 75,000 Dems cheered for wildly last night:
We must never forget that the strength of America is not its government, but in its people; and we say tonight that there is no limit to the goals America can reach, provided we stay true to the great American traditions.
A government has a role, and a very important one, but the role of government is not to take responsibility from people, but to put responsibility on them. It is not to dictate to people, but to encourage and stimulate the creative productivity of 180 million Americans. That's the way to progress in America.
In other words, we have faith in the people and, because our programs for progress are based on that faith, we shall succeed where our opponents will fail in building the better America I've described.
But if these goals are to be reached, the next president of the United States must have the wisdom to choose between the things that government should and should not do. He must have the courage to stand against the pressures of the few for the good of the many, and he must have the vision to press forward on all fronts for the better life our people want.
Obama's quest to restore the "American promise" has much more in common with Nixon's staying true to the "great American traditions" than it does with Kennedy's "New Frontier."
I think Barack Obama will defeat John McCain, but it's starting to look like another case of what I heard Mike McCabe once refer to as "even when the Republicans lose they win."