Watching Barack Obama last night in St Paul, I couldn’t help but think of sitting in Washington on that August day in 1963 and hearing about dreams. Yes, there was a huge crowd and yes spirits ran high, but the dreams? Dreams were still oratory, just oratory. Sound familiar? Well great oratory matters and always has. Think of the momentous and you can be sure oratory played a critical role. Think of the Civil War and what you’ll remember is, “Four score and...”. Think of the Depression and “the only thing you have to fear…” will present itself in an instant. Think of the generational turn of 1960 and, “Ask not what your country…” will resonate in your mind’s ear. And think of the Cold War’s Iron Curtain, so named in a Churchill speech, and its end arguably begun with Reagan’s, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall”.
Oratory counts, but even more so dreams, especially once fulfilled in all or in part. Perhaps Barack Obama’s victory isn’t “in all”, but it’s damn close. We should not, dare not, miss the moment. When my father spoke together with King there in Washington, he began with the words, “I come to you as an American Jew”. I came to last night as a White American Jew and with a feeling of enormous victory, sure for my favored candidate, but even more so for this country. It is a victory for my children and for yours. This is not just some electoral result, it’s a big deal and that it happened in our lifetime is almost beyond belief. Perhaps South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn best expressed its magnitude. He told the News Hour this evening that he was so emotional about it that he had to leave the gathering he was attending to go home and listen to the speech alone. This African American Congressman from the Deep South knows something about prejudice and about breakthroughs.
We knew that last night, whenever that last night would come, would bring with it a moment of history, the fulfillment of a dream too long delayed. I’ve written a number of times during this long campaign about those dreams an the wonder of potentially fulfilling one or the other in the same year. I knew the unfulfilled dream would be wrenching, and it is for millions of women whose time is once more delayed. I wish Hillary Clinton’s inexplicable performance reflected that global disappointment, which sadly I fear is not the case. But let no one spoil the moment, and let us not permit it to pass uncelebrated. Last night in this country, at this time, we all did overcome.
When Barack Obama ascends the podium in Denver to accept the nomination of his party, it will be forty-five years to the day since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his memorable speech. This year, with this candidate, we’ll be assured of oratory that not only will fulfill that August dream, but also will do the dreamer’s memory proud. Ah, dreams – make them really wild Barack! That will be change. Do it for people of color, do it for women and do it for all of us. Yes you can, yes you must.