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‘Love and charity and duty and patriotism’

President Barack Obama’s Election Night Speech:

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym or — or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter — the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

… The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self- government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared — that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

  • Morilore

    Is it just me, or was he really, really tired when he gave that speech?

  • Morilore

    Double post disregard.

  • flat

    so basically:

    America, fuck yeah!

  • http://cantleaveunsaid.wordpress.com/ Dave Buerstetta

     I didn’t notice that. Even if he was, by the time he got to that celebration, that climax of the speech, he sure seemed energized to me. I know I was. Got a little misty listening to it last night. Almost did so reading it again just now. I hope this is an indication of more to come from the President.

  • RickRS

    But, for the right reasons.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    A lovely speech :)

  • RickRS

    President Obama can give great speeches.  I wished I had stayed up to hear it, but my 57 year old body can’t stay up that late any more.

    Love the finish.

    “that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations…” gives me goose-bumps of delight.  Too bad that a number of people I know can only hear “blah blah blah Socialism …”

  • Jenny Islander

    Hey, time and a place–and those were definitely them!  So to speak.

  • Jessica_R

    Chris Kluwe issued a lovely statement about last night’s marriage equality victories too, http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/11/quote-of-day-chris-kluwe.html#disqus_thread 

  • Daughter

     If President Obama can use American exceptionalism to call us to live up to our highest ideals, that’s a hell of a lot better than the GOP’s “We’re the greatest just because!” attitude.

    But yeah, it does get annoying. For one thing, it’s often not true. In the quote above, for instance, I’d argue that Brazil or Indonesia might be as much, if not more, diverse than the U.S.

  • Lori

     One of the nice things about the internet age is that you don’t have to stay up to hear it. The video is available, just Googgle Obama vistory speech and you’ll have the best of both worlds–the full experience and a full night’s sleep.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    If he wasn’t, he’s got truly astonishing stamina, considering how late it was and the schedule he’s been keeping up for the past week or so. (Then again, I don’t think anybody manages to get that job who doesn’t start out with astonishing stamina.)

    And there had to be plenty of triumphant adrenalin pumping through him at the moment!

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    It was a great speech, of course. Obama can speechify. And he’s really good at stirring people up to their better natures.

    But… um. I just have to throw something out there. Every disabled person can most certainly NOT “make it” in America. There’s a reason we’re called DISabled. And there are a lot of different disabilities out there. When you literally cannot work, and people are telling you “rah rah America’s great yes you can make it if you just TRY!” — that’s incredibly depressing. We get plenty of it too, being called lazy because we can’t do things other people find easy. 

    I trust Obama enough to know if I talked to him about this, he’d probably get it. Even if he didn’t, I care more about what he can and does for me than what he says about me. Most people don’t think about it until they’re forced to. But no, everyone can’t make it. Even if this country were a democratic socialist utopia, unless our medical science advanced to magic, everyone would not be able to “make it”.  Nature sometimes comes along and ties you down. And people telling you you can make it if you just try — hell. I have a letter to write to the president.

  • LoneWolf343

     Oh, I imagine he slept pretty well last night.

  • LMM22

    I hate to sound testy about this, but — it’s called rhetoric, and it’s one of the marks of a speech. This is a victory speech, not a policy speech, and so that means it makes broad sweeping statements about America as we want to see it. It’s arguable that it should have more nuance — that it should have focused on the things we need to accomplish rather than the society we want to think we have — but, in either case, it’s not the place to describe exceptions to the American dream.

    This is something I tend to see from the left a *lot*. We can’t adopt catchy phrases that might catch on (the phrase “war on women” is automatically qualified as the war on ciswomen, transmen, and a fraction of genderqueer individuals; while technically correct, this is not a phrase that’s going to go mainstream). We can’t adopt slogans. And, yes, there are exceptions to every statement — but it’s not possible to incorporate those exceptions into a twenty minute speech and still have something that is a victory speech.

    Not to mention — aren’t you going against all of the principles endorsed by the disability rights movement? Not that I’m arguing with you (don’t get me started on that subject), but including that level of nuance basically means that you take the entire discussion off the table, particularly during a high profile speech.

  • arcseconds

    I’m often not fond of political rhetoric at the best of times, even when I basically agree with the general gist (sometimes *especially* when I agree with the general gist). 

    Speaking as a non-American, though, this notion that America is exceptional because it’s held together because of bonds of mutual obligation and belief in a shared destiny is particularly galling.    Are the rest of us on the planet short-sighted individualists selling our grandmothers for spare change or something?

    If anything, the USA is exceptional amongst the developed nations due to a *lack* of mutual obligation – or at least, American society seems to have a lot of difficulty discharging this obligation (look at the health care mess, or the shambolic electoral apparatus, to pick just two examples  – other developed nations simply don’t have these problems), and a disturbing number of Americans don’t acknowledge these obligations.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s part of the American founding myth that individualism made the country. But Obama is correct that in other respects, a shared sense of community often did run through many parts of the USA. Sam Smith’s Great American Political Repair Manual details some of this forgotten history.

  • arcseconds

     Yes, I’m sorry if my carping carried the implication that I thought Americans generally didn’t give a damn about one another and their society.  Of course there have always been many Americans who did and do, and to some extent Obama’s victory is a measure of that.

     I don’t know that much about American political history, but my understanding is that the New Deal was not something that FDR invented and advanced all on his lonesome — it took a lot of political action by a lot of people to turn the USA around from the Great Depression.

    Plus, obviously  societies are the way they are often in spite of rather than because of many of the constituents’ wishes.

    My main point is that, like many claims of American Exceptionalism, Americans are not in fact exceptional in this regard.  And, of course, registering my ire at their continued currency.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Николай-Крутиков/100002311958508 Николай Крутиков

    America is not exceptional, you American nationalist gang. 

    For those who don’t get it: Liberal nationalism is still nationalism.

  • alfgifu

    Another inhabitant of Restoftheworldia here, who also found it uncomfortable to listen to Obama’s speech. I’m not sure whether that’s a fair response or not. After all, he’s the US President speaking to his own nation, and appropriate rhetoric varies from country to country.

    But. American exceptionalism. The implicit other side of the ‘America is exceptional’ statement is that ‘everywhere else is in some way not as good as America’. (Not to mention America=only the U.S.)

    Whoever says it, and however they say it, well, it comes across as a devaluation of all the rest of us. That rings particularly hollow at a time when the most alarming aspects of our own U.K. government are modelled on the U.S. (e.g. privatisation of healthcare, creeping ‘job-creators’ rhetoric).

    I don’t know, I don’t expect President Obama to think of the rest of the world as audience members at a time like this. But we are watching, and – for me at least - what I’m seeing makes me a bit less happy about the US, a bit less confident about the future, and a bit more scared. That sort of thing adds up over the years. My parents generation is on the whole (warning, anecdata alert) more positive about the US than mine is. My younger siblings are noticably less keen on the US than I am (I think the difference is whether they had taken an interest before 9/11 or not). And we’re at the other end of the famously politically convenient special relationship.

  • Carstonio

    I have strong objections to American exceptionalism myself, and I see important differences between Obama and Romney on this issue. I wish I could remember the Slacktivite who came up with this wording, but zie said that the Romney side is childlike in its patriotism, like its mommy is the bestest mommy in the whole wide world. By contrast, the Obama side loves the nation despite its flaws and wants to remedy those flaws. That’s what I hear from Obama himself, someone who sees the US as an ideal for its people to strive for. Martin Luther King used similar themes when talking about equality. Sure, it sounds exceptionalist, but that idealism is far preferable to the deification of the other side with its twisted notions of honor.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    But. American exceptionalism. The implicit other side of the ‘America is exceptional’ statement is that ‘everywhere else is in some way not as good as America’.

    (shrug) Everywhere else is in some way not as good as America. And everywhere else is in some way better than America. And the same is true of everywhere else.

    I have no problem with celebrating American exceptionalism in that sense. Nor with celebrating German exceptionalism, or Israeli, or Libyan, or Ecuadorian, or Canadian, or whathaveyou.

    Where I have a problem is when that becomes “my country is in all ways better than all other countries.” Which happens.

  • disqus_bR7Sp5fvq8

    “Love and charity and duty and patriotism”

    He even has them in the right order!

  • alfgifu

    Carstonio

    I wish I could remember the Slacktivite who came up with this wording, but zie said that the Romney side is childlike in its patriotism, like its mommy is the bestest mommy in the whole wide world. By contrast, the Obama side loves the nation despite its flaws and wants to remedy those flaws.

    Dave

    (shrug) Everywhere else is in some way not as good as America. And everywhere else is in some way better than America. And the same is true of everywhere else.

    Yes. I like this version of patriotism, even if I’m used to a culturally different expression of it. It’s not, however, what I pick up from this:

    This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared — that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

    This sounds to me (and, I get the impression, to other people further up this comment thread) like saying that the US is the only place on Earth with such great bonds holding such diverse peoples together. That much is debatable, but when it goes on to imply that the US is the only place with this sense of a shared destiny and mutual obligation, and the only place with an appreciation of responsibilities as well as rights – well, perhaps I’m mis-parsing. But it all, taken together, reads like a narrative that makes me (and every other non-USer) less valuable because of an accident of birth and geography. And in a context where we are aware that the US has more muscle power than we do, that makes the world seem a little bit less safe.

    It’s preferable to the Romney narrative, of course. Though that’s not exactly high praise!

    tl:dr – exceptionalism is not the same as positive patriotism, because the inherent premise of being exceptional is of being better than everyone else. It’s the zero-sum game version and it makes those of us on the losing side uncomfortable.

  • arcseconds

    I can see that the occasion of being elected calls for some political rhetoric about what the nation stands for yadda yadda, and I appreciate that he’s talking to his fellow countrymen, not me.  I also can see that he (or his speech writer) might see themselves as trying to bring an ideal into reality by stating it as though it were true, and having everyone cheer for it, and I’ve got some sympathy for that, too.

    But all of us have probably met, at some point in their lives, someone who thinks they’re God’s gift to humanity, maybe in a certain area, maybe in general, and is quite unable to see that they’re not actually that shit hot after all.   Even if they do have something going for them, it’s often spoiled by their attitude — they can’t work in a team, they can’t learn from their mistakes, what they say that’s worthwhile gets ignored because it’s buried in a mountain of narcissism, and so forth.

    I’m not alone in finding these people highly annoying, but I also feel sorry for them.   They fail to live up to their potential because they’re unable to see the virtue in what other people are doing and faults in their own activities, and very often no-one really likes them much, but they never realise, or  possibly kind of deep down do realise, but go into full-on denial mode.

    That’s how most claims of American exceptionalism strike me.

    Also, when it comes down to it, he’s telling everyone a lie.  I’d have much less a problem with this if what he said was true.

     

  • EllieMurasaki

    While I consider the whole thing much the same way as the radio ad for the local credit union that goes “Del-One, the one way to a better life!” It’s bullshit, and everyone knows it’s bullshit (or should know), but it’s good marketing.

    Also the you-are-what-you-pretend-to-be principle: pretend America is a place where everybody helps everybody, behave accordingly, and lo and behold it comes to be that America is a place where everybody helps everybody.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think everyone knows it’s bullshit, I’m afraid. 

    Look at all the people in the USA that are hollering about Obamacare and the evils of socialised medicine — they appear to have completely swallowed the line that the USA has the best healthcare in the world, and they certainly don’t have any idea of how healthcare works in pretty much every other developed country in the world, otherwise they would be hollering *for* Obamacare and anything else that brings the country a little bit closer to having a system that will get treatment to everyone that needs it.

    As I said, I can see the benefits of saying “we are a nation that help each other”, even though  it’s not *entirely* true.  I just don’t think it should be phrased as “we help each other more than any other country on earth!”, which at a societal level is just a lie.

    It’s the difference between saying “we have this value”, and “we not only have this value, but have demonstrated it to a great degree!”

    On a more personal level it’s the difference between saying “I am the sort of person who is kind and helps others”, which might not really be entirely true, but might cause you to help people others more than you currently do (and therefore start to become true), and “I am the most generous and kindest person I know!” which is more likely to be a route to complacency, not improvement.  It may even cause you to be *less* generous, as you’re already completely fantastic in that area, so a bit of laxness and looking after yourself should be fine, fine.

    (Of course, what would be best is to be the kind of person who only looks to others for inspiration, and cease any comparisons if it starts to become evident it’s not a useful route to improvement any more, because you can be the kindest person you know and still have ways to improve)

  • Wilbur

    1 million abortions in 2012 in the US.  Sexual gratification more important than caring for one another.  People on the government dole that is charity, thinking it is their right.  Will they ever learn to be charitable?  It takes more than the rich.  It takes more than politicians who think they know more than they do.  It takes leaders with greater character than those in Washington DC.  Look to Jesus Christ.  Consider truly loving and being charitable.  Join the minority daily, moment by moment, trying to surrender to love and charity.  Recognize the true leader of the United States and the world.  His legislation is not written on reams of paper and he doesn’t make you obey.  He invites you on a better way.  If your hope is in this or the next political election, your lost.     

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There is no palm that can encompass the magnitude of my facepalm.

    http://cdn.epicski.com/f/f0/f069ad45_epic_facepalm_by_rjth.jpg

    I’ll try, though.


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