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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Tomasky: Obama’s Selma Speech Defines Real Patriotism, Challenges Nation


At The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky describes President Obama’s speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights: “It was the strongest statement about the liberal definition of patriotism I’ve ever heard a president deliver. It was also confrontational and challenging–an unapologetic manifesto for the values of blue America.” (text of speech here). Tomasky adds,

That’s something we don’t hear a lot about, the values of blue America. No, it isn’t because we don’t have them. It’s that we don’t parade them in the public square quite as much as conservatives do, while conservatives aren’t exactly shy about caricaturing in public their version of liberal values (we love sodomy and baby-killing and so on).
But there are liberal values. Some, we all know about–tolerance, diversity, etc. But another central one has to do with the way in which liberals love our country, and it goes like this: Yes, of course this is a great country. But it is change that has made it so. It’s a country that was founded on the highest ideals of the day, many of which are eternal, but it was also a country where ownership of human beings of a certain race was legal. So no, it wasn’t so great. It had to be made great. And by the way it’s not really as great as it should be yet. That’s a process that, the human condition being what it is, will never have an end.

Calling the president’s speech “a stirring defense of one vision of the country that was also an implicit and sometimes explicit critique of the other vision,” Tomasky elaborates: “In paragraph after paragraph, the speech essentially says: These are the truest Americans–the protesters, the outsiders, and the agitators who read the words of the founding texts and forced the system to live up to them.” Tomasky quotes from the speech:

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?…That’s America!”

Tomasky notes that even Presidents Reagan and Bush signed legislation extending the Voting Rights Act, while today’s Republicans dodge the issue at best, with few exceptions. Further, says Tomasky, “The Republican Party has never in its history been as flagrantly open about specifically seeing to it that as few black people vote as possible as it has been in these last few years (and yes, yes, the Democratic Party was once worse, but that was a very different Democratic Party).”
Tomasky explains in his conclusion, “Conservatives don’t think that change is what makes this country great” and are “terrified of the greater changes (demographic, etc.) that everyone knows are coming.” For now, however, Americans can be grateful that we have a president with the vision and eloquence needed to affirm the best of our country’s values, as we remember and honor the courageous heroes of Selma and their passion for real democracy.

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