On July 27, 2004, a young newly-elected Senator from Illinois was thrust into the national spotlight. Barack Obama gave a riveting keynote speech endorsing presidential candidate John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Foreshadowing the message his campaigns would promise in 2008 and 2012, he speaks with vigor and delivers a hopeful message.
Listening to this speech thirteen years later, I am covered in goosebumps yet utterly disillusioned. The only problem with his hopeful message is that it was not true then, it did not become true after the next three presidential elections, and it is not true now. He discusses partisanship, race relations, the media, and mentions the word “hope” eleven times.
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s a United States of America”
This could not be more untrue. Today Congress and Americans are hopelessly divided. Partisan news outlets fill every corner of the media and crazy relatives post fake news articles like “What You Need To Know About The CIA Coup Against Donald Trump”. We have gotten to a point where we are asked to turn off the news or a historic presidential inauguration because someone may be offended. Whether or not Obama is to blame, partisanship increased under his watch.
“There’s not a black America and white America”
Race relations decreased greatly over the last three years. More police shootings have been covered by the media. There have been massive protests and fellow citizens have died. People have chosen to take sides – Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter (both of which are accused of racism). This is so very sad because a serious issue was made partisan. Obama is not to blame for this, however these strained relations were not mended during his presidency.
“Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?”
I would like to participate in the politics of hope. However, it is tough sometimes given the recent election of Donald Trump who consistently marginalizes people he is supposed to protect. Our inactive and incompetent Congress is also discouraging, and most Americans agree but still don’t act. Right now, people want the politics of cynicism and the media serves us what we demand (stories that bleed). Obama deserves credit for encouraging optimism as it is healthy in doses. I am often cynical about politics, but I do consider myself a closet optimist.
It is very easy and typical for politicians to make empty promises that we quickly believe. Putting aside Obama’s achievements such as healthcare and ending the financial crisis, we were not delivered the hope and unity he promised for twelve years. Today our country looks like a dystopia when compared to Obama’s bright vision of a united American people.
Even though our former president’s vision was not achieved and may seem unattainable, we should still strive for it as Americans because it is the change we need.