The Audacity of Hope

When I was a little girl, when Ronald Reagan was president, my father taught me to sing “You are my Reagan” to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.”  I still have the letter he sent me and my brother in response to our Christmas card one year. I was a very young Republican.

As a child, for the longest time, I assumed that the President was always a Republican, because that was all I had ever known.

When Bill Clinton was elected the first time, I was in high school, and I wasn’t old enough to vote, but I was old enough to think for myself, and out from under the thumb of my father I celebrated the dawning of a new day.  And as a college freshman I voted for the first time and we elected him into office again and it felt like in our country, to me, Bill Clinton meant a new kind of America, that poor white trash could rise up and work hard and with nothing more than smarts and powerful woman behind him, with nothing more than that, you could come from absolute dirt and one day be president of the most powerful country in all of the land and that was hope, hope that meant that in this America, once again. anyone could be president.

And then George Bush stole the election out from under Al Gore and my belief began to falter.  And four years later a little more than a crazy rebel yell sank Howard Dean, and we got stuck with Kerry and I voted for him because I felt I had no other choice and I remember the night that Bush was elected again, when I knew without a doubt that it would be horrible for our country, how alone I felt, a blue dot mired in a red country, how I paced the floor of our house in Nebraska for hours, huddled on the phone with my best friend in San Francisco, how we cried and raged and how I wore black for days afterwards.  I remember, more than anything, how disappointed I felt in our country.  How hopeless things seemed.

And I wondered when it became shameful to be a Democrat, wondered how we’d gotten so lost, wondered when it had become so strange to think that paying taxes to help other people had become something to mock and when war had become such an easy answer.  When we had all become so afraid and so complaint, so quick to slap magnetic ribbons on our cars, and why no one seemed to agree when I declared that it was my body and it wasn’t up to anyone else what I did with it. I wondered if we’d ever get out of that dark place.

And then, a light.  A voice, in the darkness, and that voice was talking about hope.  That it was ok to believe.  That caring about all the children, not just your own, was a good thing.  That worrying about how to take care of everyone, all Americans, wasn’t crazy.  That I had a right to believe what I wanted to believe and I wasn’t unpatriotic for doing so, and that voice began lifting higher and louder and still it was too much to believe – the audacity of this hope.

But when everyone told him he couldn’t do it, he lifted his chin higher and said “Yes We Can”.  When everyone said it wasn’t possible for a black man to become president in this country, he said “This is America.  In America, anything is possible.”  When people said that the Democratic party was over, that the christian conservatives would have our country in their stronghold for the rest of time, he spoke of a single American family and he cautioned against those who would divide us and he always always always spoke of hope.

I am fearful for our country if Barack does not win the election today, I really am.  But whatever happens, no matter what, I will always believe that hope wins over fear.  That love wins over hate.  That we have to be free to stand up for what we believe in, even when no one else agrees with us.  And that there is no greater place in the world than this place, today, our America, where today I and my husband and our infant son stood in line at what felt like daybreak and took our place as Americans, as Democrats, as people who care about our country and our bodies and our freedom and not just our son but all the sons and daughters and we stood in that line and we checked those boxes because Yes. We. Can.

We believe.  We love.  And we hope, with our heads held high.  With all the audacity we’ve got.

alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

The audacity of hope!

-Barack Obama, 2004 Democratic National Convention

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15 Responses

  1. I’ve never voted for a Presidential candidate that actually won (but does Gore in 2000 count?).

    I’m hoping this is the year that all changes.

  2. Bart had never seen the Dean rebel yell (I know, how could you not?) and when I found it on YouTube earlier this year and showed it to him, he kept saying “really? that’s it? THAT ruined his chances?” It really was unbelievable.

    We’re not aligned on every political issue, I know, but oh I hope Obama wins tonight too.

    And it also gives me hope to see someone as remarkable as Obama come from the ashes of the Bush reign. I wonder if he would have been as successful if Bush hadn’t been so terribly unpopular. Nice to see something good come out of that mess.

  3. That’s one of the most beautiful and eloquent political posts that I have ever read…and I don’t mean Barack’s words – I mean yours as well.

    I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope.

    (By the way, am I the only one completely pissed off about the electoral college? Why don’t they modernize this process?).

  4. so so well written, I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s hope the rest of the country does too!

  5. Oh please please please let him win.

    That speech has me in tears.

  6. I made the sprog sit with me this morning and watch the music video where they blur his words with music. Even that small little snippet gives me goosebumps. In spite of all the ugliness of this campaign season and all the years past, even that small example of his hope for this country moves me.

    I’m hoping right along with you.

  7. I’m nervous and excited and could barf at any minute. Will this day ever end????

    Great post. Much better than my whining about coffee.

  8. I am so anxious about it.

  9. You are amazingly eloquent, as usual! I echo all of your words above. This election has given back some hope. You don’t realize how important it is until it returns and you understand all you have been missing while it was gone.

    Now, back to our regularly scheduled election anxiety….er, programming!

  10. I love this post! I couldn’t agree with you more.

    His book was so inspiring.

    I can only watch and wait. And hope.

  11. What a wonderful night! And your words sum up the situation so well.

  12. I stayed up all night so I could see history! Obama made me cry happy tears last night.

  13. Well now it’s shameful to be a Republican… so I guess times have changed.

  14. As an American living in Canada for many years, I have felt ashamed many times of my country, although never considered giving up my citizenship. Last night though, last night I cried.

    Never. Prouder. To. Be. An. American.

  15. I’m reading this after the election, but I’m sitting here crying. You’ve summed it all up so beautifully. And much of our country agreed! What makes this campaign different than others? It truly is all about the hope. Hope for our country, for our children, for our welfare. Hope for the future, not dread, not disappointment, not sorrow. Hope.

    Thank you for writing this.

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