August 28th -- A Good Date For Historic Speeches

[ Posted Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 – 14:40 UTC ]

[Update: This article has been updated. I have received permission to credit the person who pointed out this coincidence, in a comment he made to another Huffington Post article, so it has been changed to add Brian Laws' name. I never cite commenters within the text of my articles, as a policy, unless I have their permission to do so.]


August 28th will be the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The keynote speaker will be the Democratic nominee for president. Unless Hillary Clinton soon acquires the ability to perform miracles, that nominee giving the acceptance speech is going to be Barack Obama.

And he will give a historic speech. He will be the first black man in this country's entire history to give such a speech. And if he's half the orator he's cracked up to be, he will use the following line at some point during the speech:

"Exactly two score and five years ago..."

Using the word "score" for "twenty" is about as archaic as you can get in American English. One might even call such usage "obsolete" rather than "archaic." But it is used in two episodes in the American story, by two of the best orators we've ever had. Which means every schoolchild in America knows that when Abraham Lincoln said "Four score and seven years ago" in Gettysburg, he meant "87 years ago, when the country was founded."

Barack Obama will surely not miss the chance to use it in a third history-making speech.

Because the second such historic speech is what he will be referring to. This speech begins with the lines:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

And it ends with the following:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Forty-five years -- to the day -- after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Barack Obama will be delivering the keynote address as the party's nominee at the Democratic National Convention. His speech is going to go down in history.

It's almost as if some crafty Democrats in party headquarters picked the date on purpose. If so, well done to the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC)! But even if it was merely coincidental, it is going to be noted by everyone as the date approaches. (I can't even take credit for noticing this convergence myself, as I read it in a comment made by Brian Laws on another article recently at the Huffington Post.)

Intentional or not, though, it's going to be a good date for a speech.

There is one thing worth mentioning here, since black ministers have already had an impact on the Obama campaign. If you read the full text of King's "I have a dream" speech, you may find passages that you forgot were in there. Every year on his birthday (or, more accurately, the closest Monday to his birthday), we get edited video clips of this speech on the television news. The speech is reduced to a few soundbites, which are considered palatable, uncontroversial, and uplifting. The myth is substituted for the fact.

The fact of the matter was Martin Luther King, Jr. was a black minister pointing out some rather uncomfortable and controversial realities about the southern United States of America. He does not mince words, either:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

. . .

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

. . .

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

Even that last passage -- the key passage in the speech -- sounds a little different when not edited for today's television audience, doesn't it? You don't often see the King quote "vicious racists" every January when his birthday rolls around, do you?

I wonder what today's supercharged media environment would make of King's speech were it given today. When edited down for YouTube, which clips would endlessly play on what passes for television news these days? And would any politician running for national office defend him?

We tend to remember the warm, fuzzy parts of history, and not always the hard cold reality. King was fighting for basic human rights against a system not just of racial injustice in the South, but also a system where the entire rest of the country just looked away and pretended that such things didn't exist in America. King had to use some pretty strong language to make people pay attention to things that were real, injustices which existed in America, but which the media (and most of white America) just didn't want to think about. If he hadn't done so, civil rights legislation would have taken a lot longer, if it ever happened at all. To get things done, sometimes you have to be a little edgy.

That is the challenge for Barack Obama's acceptance speech. He needs to have a clear vision of what is right -- and what is wrong -- with America today, that everyone can hear and understand perfectly. That is the bar that he has to clear. If he can reach out to all Americans yearning to believe that politics can be good and uplifting again, with a single speech seen by more people than ever before -- and make them believe that he sees the injustices in their lives and cares about fixing them, no matter what the color of their skin is -- then John McCain should just go back to Arizona and take a nap, because Obama will win the election in a landslide.

And since it is a historic date for a speech for more than one reason, at some point in the speech, you will hear Barack Obama say:

"Exactly two score and five years ago..."


[Note to the Grammar Police: I refuse to use "an" in front of the word "historic" because there is just no reason for doing so. Do we say "an hysterectomy"? Or "an history teacher"? We do not. So while others seem to want to deify (vowelify?) the "H" in the word "historic" alone, they are just plain wrong. So there.]


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


10 Comments on “August 28th -- A Good Date For Historic Speeches”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I do think that you are right and there is no chance for Sen. Clinton to get the nomination now.

    While it would be nice to have a great speech I am more concerned about what Sen. Obama will do if he becomes President. However, an inspiring speech will hopefully convince Sen. Clinton supporters to vote for Sen. Obama so that we don't end up with Sen. McCain.


    P.S. I will continue to use "an" when I say or write "an historic...."
    - So there.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It is possible that so much has changed on the American political landscape since the last presidential election that all the Democrats need to be victorious in November is an (sorry) historic speech. And, I can certainly remember - vividly - being beyond impressed after listening to a certain speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and I'm not referring to John Kerry!

    However, just in case we are back to politics as usual this fall and people insist on voting against interest - their own and that of their country - I would suggest that Senator Obama must make a very important decision as to who he will select as his running mate.

    Since Senator Obama does not have a strong footing in the realm of foreign policy and national security, as has been much in evidence throughout this campaign, his running mate should be a leader among Democrats on foreign policy/national security and have credentials in these areas that are impeccable and unimpeachable.

    Now, of course, I don't believe Senator Biden should accept the Veep position in an Obama administration unless he is given full reign over the Iraq file and carte blanche to implement his strategy to promote and facilitate a sustainable political settlement in Iraq, regardless of what the incoming SOS has to say about it!

  3. [3] 
    Mjolnir wrote:

    All I can say today is a sincere thanks to the people of Indiana and my many friends in the great state of North Carolina, well played indeed.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    Personally, I would prefer Biden as SecState, and we could go back to the way things are supposed to be, with the VP as just a spare part for the Oval Office instead of being the Svengali running things behind the scene. [I'm not disparaging Biden here, but Cheney.] I think the SecState's job should be most of what Cheney has been doing with foreign policy, and I'd like to return to that model of government is what I'm saying.

    VP should be chosen for political reasons, to help pick up states in the election. And to be a good attack dog on the campaign trail, so the pres. candidate doesn't have to. And then once in office, they should fade into the background as they're supposed to.

    Obama, if he's thinking this way, will pick someone from Ohio or Pennsylvania (or Florida or Michigan) to help him out in November. I could see him picking Sibelius of Kansas, to put a woman on the ticket with him, too.

    But I think I'd want Biden to be in a more powerful and more effective office than VP -- namely SecState or even SecDef.

    What do you think?


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Mjolnir -

    I was all set to write today about "Gary, Indiana" stealing the election for Obama (I was in "The Music Man" in elementary school and played Ron Howard's role "Winthrop," who gets a solo in the song, sung with a lisp, of course). But alas, they needed an extra 14,000 votes or so that Gary just couldn't provide.

    So thanks first to those North Carolinians I got my information from (you know who you are) who were the basis for my call that the state was an absolute lock for Obama.

    And thanks be indeed for all the Tar Heel voters who refused to let the media control the storyline and voted for Obama, even after all the blather about Reverend Wright.


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I think this presidential campaign is going to be about foreign policy and national security, first and foremost.

    If Senator Obama doesn't have a foreign policy heavyweight with him on the ticket who can say, for example, in the VP debates, that "the military option for Iran is OFF THE TABLE!" and talk about Iraq with the highest authority...and have the impeccable credentials to back those words up and resist being knocked down as "soft on national security", then we better start preparing ourselves for another four more years of more of the same.

    I'm not saying that John McCain has a more sound judgement on foreign policy, particularly on Iraq, because he does not. But, I am not convinced that the kind of foreign policy/national security arguments he will undoubtedly be making won't sway 51% of the electorate. Barack Obama needs a running mate who can not only counter those arguments but obliterate them, so to speak.

    I don’t think Obama wins the general without Biden on the ticket. But, again, I don't think Biden should even consider the offer - for any position - unless it comes with the Iraq file...otherwise, what would be the point?

    Besides, we can return to the wallflower veeps in another campaign. And, if anyone can make us forget all about Cheney, Biden certainly can. I can damn sure guarantee you one thing...after having the opportunity to see Biden in action under the spotlight of the national media for a few months, there will be many in this country scratching their heads and wondering why on earth Biden isn't sitting in oval office!

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    You could be right, but politically speaking, Obama may look for executive experience and economic experience in a VP. The American public (from exit polls done after various states voted) has switched from Iraq being their number one issue to the economy being number one.

    Now, the public is fickle, and there's a lot of time before November. But the question is, when will Obama pick his VP? If it's during the summer with $4 a gallon gas, it might just influence him.

    But you know what? I bet we're all wrong. I bet Obama is going to ignore the conventional political wisdom and pick who he wants as VP. Maybe it'll be the best one, maybe it won't, but I get the feeling he's going to pick someone that will surprise a lot of people, myself included. That's just a gut feeling, though, and certainly won't stop me (or anyone else) from writing columns speculating about it!

    But I refuse to call it a "Veepstakes" because that is just too darn silly....


  8. [8] 
    Thatcher wrote:

    I prefer Richardson for Secretary of State for his diplomatic works.
    I think Biden would be a good choice for Secretary of Defense.
    I'll even toss John Edwards to Attorney General.
    I would like a current or former union official to be Labor Secretary

    This election is about old v new and new is winning (though in a very tight battle).

    Obama needs to select a VP who is more of a "fresh face" (or at least appears to be). His cabinet can then be filled with the "old guard".

    If Obama is continuously going to be compared to JFK and RFK and MLK - it's time to make the ticket LOOK like those "young upstarts". I go back to my belief that his running mate needs to be near his age (under 60 and over 40). Male or Female. And throw in some executive experience ... Governor Janet Napolitano of AZ, Governor Bill Ritter of CO, Governor Brad Henry of OK, Governor Tim Kaine of VA. All of these selections would put those states into play (and regions) - Though Napolitano wouldn't "guarantee" a win in AZ, it would make it a more lively race in McCain's homestate. However, Ritter or Napolitano would help in the West and Southwest.

    McCain cannot pick a VP that is TOO young looking. Otherwise it will look like Ol'grandad and his kid. He has to pick closer to his age (either male or female). Use the "new v old" to the full extent - Obama should pick an "outside the beltway youngin'."

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    While we're talking dream teams, here's mine...President Biden, VP Hagel (this assumes, of course, that he has come to his senses and is now on board with Biden's strategy for US Iraq policy - all part of the dream), SOS Lugar...beyond that, I don't much care who is chosen for SecDef because I know it will be someone extremely competent and on same page as the three amigos. Hey! I said DREAM teams.

    Do I think the US electorate would go for a team like that? Not in a million years!

    Anyway, I am absolutely sure that Senator Obama WILL NOT pick Biden. And, I don't expect him to win the general, either.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Whether the public or the media or the blogosphere realize it or not, issue #1 is IRAQ, with AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN sharing a very close second. In fact, the number one domestic issue is IRAQ! If they don't believe that, then they are in for a very rude awakening. And, they won't have to wait long.

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