I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.MLK, August 28, 1963, Lincoln Memorial.
I watched President Obama's speech at Cairo University this morning--this intelligent, thoughtful cry for justice, tolerance and peace given in front of an intelligent, hopeful audience of young people who hold the future of their worlds in their hands-- and as I listened, I realized that this was Barack Obama's "I have a dream" speech.
When Martin Luther King gave his impassioned speech that sizzling day in Washington in 1963 there were no illusions that it was the speech that was going to change the world. It gained resonance and built power and ultimately became the battle cry and the triumph of the civil rights movement because of MLK's eloquent observations of simple truths. We could no longer defend the notion that a nation as strong as ours could go on denying a segment of our population equal rights under the law. We were a better people than that.
Over time we either forgot or ignored those lessons--that we can only function as a whole when we all have the same opportunities to rise above--and it cost us. But today our president, Barack Hussein Obama, reminded us that we are citizens of the world. He reminded us that other cultures, other religions, other beliefs live side by side with us here in America. He reminded us that we as a people, as a nation, have an obligation to ourselves to do the right thing.
It was a brave speech. He talked openly about Muslims and their place in the world, knowing that the hatemongers would barely wait for the speech to be over before they would begin their attack. He talked about what we as Americans would do to help bring peace to a tattered Middle East, but there were no promises that we would provide the solutions.
There was loud cheering whenever Obama talked about Muslims and their rights, but noticeable silence when he talked about peace in Israel. There is still a long way to go, but there was no question that Obama sees himself as a citizen of the world. He comes to it naturally, given his background, and he has allowed himself to see the world from all viewpoints.
As he was talking (reading from his prompters, if you must) I thought about our last "president" giving a speech of that magnitude and how it would have gone over. The best speechwriters on the planet couldn't have given GWB the power, the presence, the authority to handle it. It wouldn't have been seen as anything even close to genuine. Nor would it have held up over time, as Obama's speech surely will.
But I happened to be watching MSNBC during the speech and so when it was over, it was Joe Scarborough who was there to give the commentary. This is what Joe said minutes into his own speechifying:
"I found it fascinating that he didn't move away from George W. Bush's belief in democracy and the rights of women."No, it's true. He really said that. Then, moments later, he brought in Liz Cheney to dissect Obama's speech and give her take on what it all means. He really did.
And moments after that I changed the channel to CNN, where intelligence reigned and people from all sides and other cultures discussed the speech at length.
I have no illusions about Barack Obama's power to make changes. I don't see him as a deity. I don't always agree with everything he does. I don't see an end to Muslim extremism.
But at this moment, on this day, I give thanks that he's where he is and that he's who he is. I'm proud of our president. I haven't been able to say that in a very long time.