DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION,
JULY 27, 2004
On behalf of the great state of Illinois, [the crowd applauds, and Obama’s eyes sparkle with pride at speaking the name of his home state] crossroads of a nation [pause], Land of Lin- coln, let me express my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention. [He reaches out to the audience with open hands, conveying his gratitude.]
Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. [Obama places his hand over his heart. His intonation underscores the irony of the circumstances.] My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant to the British. [He pinches the fingers of his right hand, under- scoring his point.]
But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. [Obama stretches his palms upwards, as if measuring the enor- mity of the dreams.] Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place: America [italics added for emphasis], that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. [His inflection conveys patriotic pride and generates applause.]
While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. [Obama gestures with a hand off in a direction, indicating far, far away. He flashes a bright smile toward the part of the crowd that cheers upon hearing ”Kansas” and waves to them in a ten- der gesture.] Her father worked on oil rigs and farms
through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Har- bor my grandfather signed up for duty, joined Patton’s army, marched across Europe. Back home, my grand- mother raised a baby and [emphasis] went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the GI Bill, bought a house through FHA, and later moved west, all the way to Hawaii, in search of opportunity.
And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter, a com- mon dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. [Obama speaks the words with pride and reverence; his hand extended to the audience, signi- fying shared awe in all the United States has to give.]
They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” [he touches his hand over his heart] believing that in a tolerant [emphasis] America [he pinches the fingers of his right hand] your name is no barrier to success. [Applause.] They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich [he raises a palm to the crowd, a lit- tle stop sign, as if to halt any notion that richness is a precursor to success] to achieve your potential. [Applause.] They are both passed away now. Yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.
I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my her- itage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two pre- cious daughters. [Sincerity rings in his tone.] I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story [he stretches a hand to the audience, reaching out to them], that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that,
in no other country on earth is my story even possible. [He pinches his fingers with those words, his voice bursting with pride. He pauses as some audience members rise in ovation.]
Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declara- tion made over two hundred years ago, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, [he amplifies his voice slightly, speaking the patriotic words with care and curls his right fin- gers into a C, motioning in front of him as if setting the words on air] that all men are created equal. [Applause.] That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That [emphasis] is the true genius of America [applause], a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sud- den knock on the door. [Obama knocks a balled fist on an imaginary door.] That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe. That we can partici- pate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted—at least, most of the time. [He allows his tone to fall flat, disapproving, signaling a wry reference to the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential election results. The audience responds with jeers, sharing his disapproval.]
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our commitments, to hold them against a hard
reality, and see how we are measuring up to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And fellow Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Indepen- dents—I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. [Obama stresses the words, his tone issuing the statement as a challenge. More applause.] More work to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. [His tone rings with disapproval.] More to do for the father that I met who was losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay
$4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted on. [His tone conveys great empathy.] More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will [he emphasizes the words and his slight pauses add power to the delivery], but doesn’t have the money to go to college.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead, and they want to. [Obama stresses the words as he pinches his fingers to further accentuate his statement.] Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon. [His amplification of these last three words makes a negative refer- ence to the Iraq War, drawing reaction from the audience.] Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you
that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations [he gestures upward as if raising a bar], and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. [He wags his index finger, as if chastising someone for that belief.] They know those things. [Enthusiastic applause.] People don’t expect government to solve all their problems. [He lifts a vertical palm to the audience, as if halting the very notion.] But they sense, deep in their bones [he raises a soft fist and thumps it in air], that with just a slight change in pri- orities [he moves his right fingers as if turning a knob slightly to adjust it], we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know, [he pinches his fingers, under- scoring his emphasis of the words] we can do better [a brief pause], and they want that choice.
In this election, [Obama raises his index finger in the air, raising it like a staff] we offer that choice. Our party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this coun- try has to offer. [Pride rings in his tone.] And that man is John Kerry. [His tone is firm and resolute. Applause.] John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and serv- ice, because they’ve defined his life. [He pinches his fingers to give each word weight.] From his heroic service in Viet- nam to his years as prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. [He turns both palms upward, as if presenting a gift or offering, underscoring his description of Kerry’s devotion and service.] Again and again,
we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available. His values and his record affirm what is best in us. [He varies his tone and amplifies his volume.]
John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded. So instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas [Obama motions his hand off dismis- sively to the right], he offers them to companies creating jobs here at home. [He moves both hands to the left as if mov- ing an object to where it belongs, signifying how much more Kerry would give to the alternative of keeping jobs at home. Applause.]
John Kerry believes in an America where all [emphasis] Americans can afford the same health coverage our politi- cians in Washington have for themselves. [Applause.] John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies [Obama motions his hand like a stop sign] or the sabotage of foreign oil fields. [Applause.] John Kerry believes in the constitutional free- doms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us. [Pause for applause.] And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option sometimes [he points his index finger in the air, signi- fying the importance], but it should never be the first [emphasis] option. [Applause.]
A while back, I met a young man named Shamus in a VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two, six-three, clear-eyed, with an easy smile [the texture of Obama’s tone is wistful, conveying admiration]. He told me he’d joined the marines and was heading to Iraq
the following week. As I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, the absolute faith he had in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all that any of us might ever hope for in a child [he speaks the words with tender affection]. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he’s serving us? I thought of the 900 men and women, sons and daugh- ters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who won’t be returning to their own hometowns. I thought of fami- lies I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves shattered, but still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. [Disappointment rings in his voice. Applause.] When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation [he rests his palm over his heart] not to fudge the numbers [he raises his hand in a stop sign], or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone [he points an index finger, emphasizing the importance], to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never [pause] ever [he amplifies his voice greatly] go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world. [He stresses the words, amplifying each to build to a high. Audience members rise in ovation.]
Now let me be clear. [Obama motions his index finger up in the air.] We have real enemies in the world. These ene- mies must be found. [He pinches his fingers. A slight pause gives gravity to the words.] They must be pursued [his hand gesture underscores the importance of “pursuing”], and they must be defeated. [He pinches his fingers at these words, high-
lighting their importance.] John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant [emphasis] Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President [emphasis] Kerry will not hesitate one moment [emphasis] to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes [emphasis] in America. And he knows that it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. [He moves his index finger in the air.] For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. [His tone conveys a challenge beneath his words.]
A belief that we’re all connected as one people. [His tone is filled with wistful, patriotic pride.] If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me [he moves his hand to his chest, stressing the heartfelt words], even if it’s not my child. [Obama speaks the words with sincerity and evokes applause.] If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drug and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. [He places his hand tenderly over his heart and draws more applause.] If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process [he amplifies his tone], that threat- ens my [emphasis] civil liberties. [He taps a closed fist at his chest, drawing loud cheers from the audience. He pauses as applause rings on.] It is that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper [he raises his volume even more, and his voice rings with moral rightness as he slices a hand through the air], I am my sister’s keeper [he cuts his hand through the air again, making eye contact with the other side of the audience]—that
makes this country work. [Applause.] It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, and yet still come together as one American family [his tone grows reflective.] “E pluribus unum.” [He enunciates each word carefully, curls his right fingers into a C and motions as if placing the words on air for the audience to see, and gives a dramatic pause.] Out of many, one. [He lowers his pitch to emphasize the translation and curls his left fingers into a C, motioning again as if placing the words on air.]
Now, even as we speak, there are those who are prepar- ing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal [emphasis] America and a conservative America [he amplifies his volume, his tone mocking the notions]—there is the United States of America. [Obama enunciates each word carefully—U-ni-ted-States-of- A-mer-i-ca—moving his fingers as if writing in cursive. Applause.] There is not a black America [emphasis] and white America [emphasis] and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. [He enunci- ates the words carefully again, giving them dramatic impact. Applause.] The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states. [His tone mocks the practice.] Red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. [He raises his index finger, chas- tising the pundits.] We worship an awesome God [he stresses the words, raising his hands and amplifying his voice to signify God ’s greatness] in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. [He increases his cadence dramatically, underscoring the point.
Applause.] We coach Little League in the blue states and yes we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. [Applause.] There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one [emphasis] people, all of us [emphasis] pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us [emphasis] defending the [pause] United States of America [He punches the words—U- ni-ted-States-of-A-mer-i-ca—scrawling his fingers as if writ- ing in cursive. Applause. The electrified audience starts chanting “Obama! Obama!”]
In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we par- ticipate in a politics of cynicism [his voice falls flat, signal- ing disapproval] or do we participate in a politics of hope? [Obama raises his pitch, sounding hopeful and expectant. The crowd shouts out, “Hope!” as if participating in a “call and response.”] John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here—the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemploy- ment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. [Emphasis.] It’s the hope [emphasis] of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope [emphasis] of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope [emphasis] of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope [emphasis] of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope [empha- sis] of a skinny kid [emphasis] with a funny name [he thumps his palm against his chest, indicating he is speaking of himself] who believes that America has a place for him, too. [He
reaches open palms toward his listeners. The audience goes wild with adulation, the applause extending so long that Obama adds two sentences as the cheers continue.] Hope [emphasis] in the face of difficulty. [His amplified words signify his approval of the audience’s reaction.] Hope in the face of uncer- tainty. [He keeps his volume powerful.] The audacity of hope! [His volume rises.]
In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock [emphasis] of this nation; a belief [emphasis] in things not seen; a belief [emphasis] that there are better days ahead. [Passion resonates in Obama’s voice.] I believe [emphasis] that we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe [emphasis] we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from vio- lence and despair. I believe [emphasis] that we have a right- eous wind in our backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. America! [emphasis] Tonight! [The intensity of his tone rings like a challenge, reach- ing a crescendo.]
If you feel the same energy [emphasis] that I do, if you feel the same urgency [emphasis] that I do, if you feel the same passion [emphasis] that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness [emphasis] that I do—if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Ore- gon [he slices a hand through the air], from Washington to Maine [he slices a hand through air again, his inflections ris- ing and falling to convey the breadth of the geography, from coast to coast] the people will rise up in November, and John
Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.
Thank you very much everybody. [He stretches his arm high, waving goodbye] God bless you. [The energized audi- ence rises in full ovation, with some people chanting “Obama! Obama!”] [Emphases provided.]