On July 27, 2004, a little-known state senator from Illinois, seeking to upgrade his position by winning his state's U.S. Senate contest, gave a speech to the Democratic National Convention at the request of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. At the conclusion of that speech, it was clear that a star was born. The speech was a rhetorical masterpiece, and the underlying theme was one that spoke to all of us.
That theme, simply put, was "One America." It is worth revisiting the key words that Barack Obama spoke which captured that theme so eloquently:
Now 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, 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, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
We needed to hear those words at that time. The nation that just a few short years ago was united in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 had fractured along political fault lines over the war in Iraq.
President Bush, a man whose dogged determination was at first lauded as a virtue when he pursued the Al-Qaeda masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks into Afghanistan, was then viewed by half the nation as a reckless cowboy who distorted the truth to take us into an unnecessary war that we were losing at the time.
Add to that his inability to effectively articulate his strategy and vision for the nation, and his pre-election claim of being a "uniter rather than a divider" rang hollow. He did not have the political capital to bring us back to unity.
Barack Obama's well-crafted speech, coupled with a life story that could be made only in America, made him an overnight sensation. His campaign for President in 2007-2008 scuffed up his shining armor as political campaigns are wont to do, but he used his formidable oratorical skills and mastery of electoral politics to defeat the "First Family" of the Democratic Party and a GOP veteran warhorse of campaigns past.
On the night of his election, he returned once again to the theme of "One America" and offered an olive branch to those who did not vote for him:
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
Fast forward to this week, when he spoke to the Chinese people as our President on the virtues of free speech and the free flow of information:
But the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear. It forces me to examine what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.
Back home, his words were met with derision by many conservative pundits; Michelle Malkin captured those sentiments perfectly:
How do you say "You lie!" in Mandarin? While the kowtower-in-chief's press shop feeds paeans to free speech into Obama's globetrotting teleprompter, the White House is still waging war on vocal foes at home. Obama has lectured his critics in Washington to stop talking and "get out of the way." He has stacked his carefully staged town halls with partisan stooges and campaign plants throughout the year. The president recently derided limited- government activists in the Tea Party movement with a vulgar sexual term used by left-wing cable host Anderson Cooper on CNN and the MSNBC smear merchants (just Google "teabagging" and you'll see what they mean).
Her words reflect was has clearly been one of the most divisive years in recent memory, with millions of people in opposition to the President's radical agenda of "remaking America." Conversely, millions of others respond to this opposition with cries of racism, accusations of being "un-American" or "brown-shirts", one of many references to Nazism, crude insults and, in some cases, outright violence.
Surprisingly, many of the rhetorical swipes taken at the opposition, to include the aforementioned "vulgar sexual term", came from the President himself. His once shining suit of armor is dented and gouged beyond repair.
How did we get here? How does a President with approval ratings in the mid-80s upon taking office lose so much support in one year that his numbers plunge into the pedestrian range of 45% to 50%? How does a man whose soaring rhetoric celebrated "One America" find himself uttering vulgarities from behind the presidential seal against citizens he is pledged to support as the President of all the people?
I have two explanations for your consideration. The first is that the Obama team misread the 2008 election results as a mandate for massive political change. The people most energized by Obama's candidacy, either because of the historical opportunity to elect the first black President, his "hope and change" campaign message, or Bush fatigue, turned out to vote. Their numbers were dwarfed, however, by those who did not vote for him.
An objective view of the political calculus reveals that just over 33% of the more than 207 million eligible voters in the U.S. voted for Obama. That means 67% of eligible voters either voted for McCain, a third-party candidate, or not at all.
With Obama's hard turn to the left after taking the oath of office, his apologies and overemphasis on America's sins while traveling abroad, and his unprecedented spending spree which seems to have no end in sight, he has awakened most of those 67% from their slumber.
The result is a movement no one anticipated and that the established political structure doesn't control, nor do they know how to respond to it. The "silent majority" is silent no longer, and they have adopted a title - The "Tea Party" - and imagery inspired by the American Revolution to highlight their cause.
The other explanation is more sobering. During his 2004 campaign for President, Senator John Edwards spoke of "two Americas", and he used class as the dividing line with the wealthy on one side and everyone else on the other.
I have come to believe that there are indeed two Americas, but they are divided by worldviews rather than class.
One America sees our nation as a "shining city on a hill," a force for good in the world, and richly blessed by God because we have used our power to advance freedom rather than tyranny, seeking only enough territory to bury our dead from the wars fought in foreign lands to save millions of people from oppression.
We are a people of character, and we believe there is good and evil in the world and that anyone with common sense knows the difference.
We are a people that care for one another and we are generous to the world, giving more private charity to other countries than any nation past or present. We are compassionate toward those who cannot help themselves and will help those who can to become productive and self-sufficient citizens. We believe that the true power of our nation is in its people and not in its government, and it is our emphasis on individual liberty and initiative that has made us strong.
Our systems of government and economics are the envy of the world, and our freedoms are a beacon to millions who came here, and continue to come, to realize their dreams of creating wealth for themselves and their families, or to worship in peace, or simply to breathe the rarified air of liberty. More people seek to come to America than to leave.
While we know we are not perfect, we have unceasingly strained toward the goal of living up to our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, three of the most transformative secular documents in world history.
With our combination of military might, the largest economy in world history, and a higher number of immigrants than any other nation that has ever existed, we believe that we are exceptional, and we are a stabilizing and comforting presence in the world. In short, we are proud of America and to be called Americans.
The other America is a place where our nation has committed many sins abroad for which it must atone. The world's ills are attributable primarily to our moral failures and our lack of humility. We are feared rather than respected, loathed rather than loved.
To the other America, the evil is believing in objective truth and a natural order of things. The highest virtue is self-fulfillment, and those who have not realized their dreams are the victims of a nation of privileged people, generally white, who seek to acquire and hoard their riches from others, usually by unethical or illegal means.
Since capitalism is inherently corrupt and people are greedy, only government has the means and the compassion to help the disenfranchised in society. Redistribution of wealth is a moral imperative because those who have much would otherwise shut out those who have little or nothing.
The Constitution is a flawed document written by hypocrites who extolled the virtues of freedom while owning slaves. Therefore, it is ignored as a relic of the past, even as our elected officials take an oath to uphold it.
Only elites, primarily the liberal ones, from the worlds of law, entertainment or academia have the right answers. The rest of us are, to use one liberal's description, "angry, uneducated hillbillies." We are useful only to subsidize their careers with our paychecks so they can continue to mock and insult us.
I may not have captured all of the characteristics of the two Americas, but I believe the people in both nations recognize themselves.
These are not fleeting opinions, but deeply held beliefs that are not subject to change. I don't believe Barack Obama's "One America" exists, and by his words and actions, I don't think he believes it, either. The question before us now is which vision of America will prevail?