One of the greatest gifts of our democracy is the opportunity it offers us every four years to change course. It’s not a guarantee; it’s only an opportunity. The question facing us is, simply put, will we seize this opportunity for change? That’s why I came here tonight: to tell you why I feel so strongly that we must seize this opportunity to elect Barack Obama President of the United States.
Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn’t really matter who became president. Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both, no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn’t matter.
Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued bin Laden until we captured him. We would not be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis; we would be fighting for middle-income families. We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution; we’d be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. And we would not be denying the climate crisis; we’d be solving it.
Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now, because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them. The same policies all over again?
Hey, I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous. With John McCain’s support, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have led our nation into one calamity after another because of their indifference to fact; their readiness to sacrifice the long term to the short term, subordinate the general good to the benefit of the few and short-circuit the rule of law.
If you like the Bush-Cheney approach, John McCain’s your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Barack Obama is telling us exactly what he will do: launch a bold new economic plan to restore America’s greatness; fight for smarter government that trusts the market, but protects us against its excesses; enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education and pro-family, establish a foreign policy that is smart as well as strong; provide health care for all and solutions for the climate crisis.
So why is this election so close? Well, I know something about close elections, so let me offer you my opinion. I believe this election is close today mainly because the forces of the status quo are desperately afraid of the change Barack Obama represents.
There is no better example than the climate crisis. As I have said for many years throughout this land, we’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change. Oil company profits have soared to record levels, gasoline prices have gone through the roof and we are more dependent than ever on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.
Many scientists predict that the entire north polar ice cap may be completely gone during summer months in the first term of the next president. Sea levels are rising, fires are raging, storms are stronger. Military experts warn us our national security is threatened by massive waves of climate refugees destabilizing countries around the world, and scientists tell us the very web of life is endangered by unprecedented extinctions.
We are facing a planetary emergency which, if not solved, would exceed anything we’ve ever experienced in the history of humankind. In spite of John McCain’s past record of open mindedness on the climate crisis, he has apparently now allowed his party to browbeat him into abandoning his support of mandatory caps on global warming pollution.
And it just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security. The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
Instead of letting lobbyists and polluters control our destiny, we need to invest in American innovation. Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. ” We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis—everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, “Yes we can. ”
So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister? Because the carbon fuels industry—big oil and coal—have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it’s worth. And this same industry has spent a half a billion dollars this year alone trying to convince the public they are actually solving the problem, when they are in fact making it worse every single day.
This administration and the special interests who control it lock, stock and barrel after barrel, have performed this same sleight-of-hand on issue after issue. Some of the best marketers have the worst products; and this is certainly true of today’s Republican Party. The party itself has on its rolls men and women of great quality. But the last eight years demonstrate that the special interests who have come to control the Republican Party are so powerful that serving them and serving the national well-being are now irreconcilable choices.
So what can we do about it? We can carry Barack Obama’s message of hope and change to every family in America. And pledge that we will be there for Barack Obama—not only in the heat of this election, but in the aftermath as we put his agenda to work for our country.
We can tell Republicans and Independents, as well as Democrats, why our nation needs a change from the approach of Bush, Cheney and McCain. After they wrecked our economy, it is time for a change. After they abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it’s time for a change. After they abandoned the American principle first laid down by General George Washington, when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, “shame, disgrace and ruin” to our nation, it’s time for a change.
When as many as three Supreme Court justices could be appointed in the first term of the next president, and John McCain promises to appoint more Scalias and Thomases and end a woman’s right to choose, it’s time for a change.
Many people have been waiting for some sign that our country is ready for such change. How will we know when it’s beginning to take hold? I think we might recognize it as a sign of such change, if we saw millions of young people getting involved for the first time in the political process. This election is actually not close at all among younger voters – you are responding in unprecedented numbers to Barack Obama’s message of change and hope.
You recognize that he represents a clean break from the politics of partisanship and bitter division. You understand that the politics of the past are exhausted, and you’re tired of appeals based on fear. You know that America is capable of better than what you have seen in recent years. You are hungry for a new politics based on bipartisan respect for the ageless principles embodied in the United States Constitution.
There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon awakening to the challenge of a present danger, shaking off complacency to rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of embracing change.
A century and a half ago, when America faced our greatest trial, the end of one era gave way to the birth of another. The candidate who emerged victorious in that election is now regarded by most historians as our greatest president. Before he entered the White House, Abraham Lincoln’s experience in elective office consisted of eight years in his state legislature in Springfield, Illinois, and one term in Congress – during which he showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history.
The experience Lincoln’s supporters valued most in that race was his powerful ability to inspire hope in the future at a time of impasse. He was known chiefly as a clear thinker and a great orator, with a passion for justice and a determination to heal the deep divisions of our land. He insisted on reaching past partisan and regional divides to exalt our common humanity. In 2008, once again, we find ourselves at the end of an era with a mandate from history to launch another new beginning. And once again, we have a candidate whose experience perfectly matches an extraordinary moment of transition.
Barack Obama had the experience and wisdom to oppose a popular war based on faulty premises. His leadership experience has given him a unique capacity to inspire hope, in the promise of the American dream of a boundless future. His experience has also given him genuine respect for different views and humility, in the face of complex realities that cannot be squeezed into the narrow compartments of ideology. His experience has taught him something that career politicians often overlook: that inconvenient truths must be acknowledged if we are to have wise governance.
The extraordinary strength of his personal character – and that of his wonderful wife, Michelle – is grounded in the strengths of the American community. His vision and his voice represent the best of America. His life experience embodies the essence of our motto – e pluribus unum – out of many, one. That is the linking identity at the other end of all the hyphens that pervade our modern political culture. It is that common American identity – which Barack Obama exemplifies, heart and soul – that enables us as Americans to speak with moral authority to all of the peoples of the world, to inspire hope that we as human beings can transcend our limitations and to redeem the promise of human freedom.
Late this evening, our convention will end with a benediction. As we bow in reverence, remember the words of the old proverb: “when you pray, move your feet. ” Then let us leave here tonight and take the message of hope from Denver to every corner of our land, and do everything we can to serve our nation, our world—and most importantly, our children and their future—by electing Barack Obama President of the United States.