I feel a mix of emotions after watching President Barack Obama deliver yet another powerful eulogy for victims of senseless violence. This was once again the President who wrote about the “audacity of hope” before he became President. Yet this was a wistful President who has recognized the limitations of his own words, who achieved the highest office in the country and found that he could not effect change as much as he wanted. The speech was a reminder once again that Mr. Obama knows his Scripture and knows the American people.
Prior to his speech, several pundits suggested that he was out of touch by expressing, while he was still in Europe that America is not failed with hate and wasted by racism. But in his 40-minute cry from the heart, Mr. Obama reminded us that he does indeed know this country and its people. We have our haters but they are the few. He reminded us that America and Americans have indeed made racial progress in the fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It would be a dishonor to those who have struggled to feel otherwise, Mr. Obama said.
Be pleaded for a greater appreciation of the work and commitment of police all across the country – and particularly to the Dallas police who Mr. Obama said are doing things right. He personalized the lives and meaning of the five slain officers. We all need to understand that they put their lives on the line every day.
At the same time, and poignantly so before an audience that was not entirely friendly to this President, Mr. Obama argued that we all have to understand that there is still a legacy of racism and a sensibility of fear among those who are members of forgotten groups – African Americans, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and gays.
This was the idealist that majorities of Americans elected and re-elected. But Mr. Obama was speaking as a man in his final year of office, fully recognizing where he himself fell short in delivering a better America. He reminded all Americans that politicians have not delivered on resources for schools, yet demand from police that they put out the fires when anger boils over.
He deftly addressed both police and angry members of Black Lives Matter. He called for prayer that those Americans with hearts of stone would develop hearts of flesh – to be able to see the “other” as they see themselves.
Mr. Obama always reminds me of another great idealist – Woodrow Wilson. Also an aloof intellectual who was often more comfortable addressing large crowds than sitting in a room with only one or two people. Wilson was also viewed as too stubborn with leaders of Congress and uncomfortable with the backslapping actions that mark a successful politician and legislator. But Wilson accomplished a lot and his words addressed many of the greatest values that defined this country – rights of self-determination, freedom, infrastructures for global peace, and so on.
President Obama powerfully reiterated that “This is the America I know”, as he told us all that we are so much better than the violent haters of Charleston, Dallas, and Sandy Hook. This was not only among his greatest speeches, one that defines who we really are and how we can move forward after this tragedy, but it was truly one of the great American speeches – among the words of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Martin Luther King. But just as a Wilson presidency yielded to the uninspiring and scandal-ridden Presidency of Warren G. Harding, one of America’s worst occupants of the White House, I cannot but be saddened that this eloquent man of integrity today will turn over the White House to the likes of either an egotist with only a flare for entertainment and outrage or a woman who is so often just one short step from a scandal that could derail her candidacy.
The President touched a lot of hearts in his Dallas speech. He deserves a solid appreciation by historians.