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Monday, June 20, 2005
Barack Obama's Great Speech

In nearly every way, I am a political conservative. But I am also (among other things) a political scientist by training, so I've studied a broad spectrum of political philosophies. I am also enough of a Dostoevskian (with a nod to Mikhail Bakhtin) that I think it's important to hear all the serious, credible voices.

In practice, one of the things this means is that I do some reading of The New Republic online. TNR is one of the more substantive, intelligent liberal voices - which means that, at its best, it's nothing like Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, and all the others whose public personas, at least, are emotionally incendiary enough for good sound bites, but intellectually rather shallow. On a good day TNR is what we were supposed to believe John Kerry was, before he opened his mouth or we discovered his college grades: serious, reflective, articulate, somewhat intellectual, and - forgive me for even using such a discredited word - nuanced. I usually disagree with TNR, and I refuse to send them any money for an online subscription, so I can only read some of what they put online, but I don't typically find it to be a waste of time.

Today TNR's contribution to my life is one of the best political speeches I have encountered in a long time: Senator Barack Obama's (D-Illinois) June 4 commencement address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. (Here's the TNR link, too.)

Obama's speech is upbeat and American. Except for the policy details, this is a speech Ronald Reagan might have given. Obama is not obsessed here with bashing a President from another party or telling us how awful America is. (So refreshing!) I don't agree with all of his policies or every detail of the history he presents, but it's an excellent speech. If the Democratic Party as a whole took this sort of tone, celebrating the past and betting on the future of the American spirit, rather than being ashamed of it, they'd give the Republicans a serious run for their money. Sooner or later, when the Democrats figure this out, the Republicans will have to get smarter in a hurry - and even then it will be too late.

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