These are not partisan political issues we’ve been fighting over, they are the very stuff of life. When it starts, when it ends, how we love in between, where we find our faith, the challenges that come to test it, and us.
The Culture War, declared by Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention started to come to an end last night, and the truce was initiated by none other than Pat Buchanan himself.
There was no formal ceremony. But there, late on a night Americans will tell their grandchildren about, on a cable television talk show panel a mile from where Obama’s speech just concluded, the Nixon-speech writer-turned-columnist-turned-presidential-candidate-turned-pundit, gushed. Buchanan’s life most closely traces the arc of the Culture War, a sentimental clinging to a time that for some was care-free, for others segregated, sublimated or closted.
But even social conservative icon Pat Buchanan could not bring himself to say one negative word about Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. Not one. Not about the policies. Not about the tone. Not even about all the celebrities or setting. Nothing negative.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Obama spoke of respecting differences on the issue of abortion, even as we work together to reduce unintended pregnancies; and he said while we may have differences on the question of marriage, shouldn’t we at least agree our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers have the right to visit loved ones in hospitals and be free from fear of being fired.
Pat Buchanan gushed, "This was not a liberal speech, this was a centrist speech."
Pleas re-read that sentence again before going on.
In a speech that will be memorized by children for generations, Barack Obama did not shrink from the issues that have inflamed passions and shaped our post-boomer generation. He sought to heal them. He did not seek to divide, but to unite on social differences, respectfully, so that we may fight together on several issues that directly threaten the lives of friends and neighbors, at home and abroad; the six-plus billion already breathing and walking among us. People too often forgotten, too often ignored, or dismissed because of poverty, or lack of resources, or just the fact of the struggles they have making it from one job to the next, just to get by.
Obama said that most emphatically.
He did not mince words, but by openly articulating respect for the fact that Americans have differing beliefs, and that we must learn to respect those beliefs, he appealed to the best within all of us, while squarely holding the responsible parties accountable, another great American value.
What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.
We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing
the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun
ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those
plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t
uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of
criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but
surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters
deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives
free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know
anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or
an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This
too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we
can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common
I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk.
claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and
more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes
and the abandonment of traditional values.
And that’s to be expected.
Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics
to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you
paint your opponent as someone people should run from.
You make a big election about small things. And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the
cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work,
all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and
again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already
I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this
office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career
in the halls of Washington.
But I stand before you tonight because all across America something
is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election
has never been about me. It’s been about you.
His speech suggested we must heal the divisions that have created partisan gridlock: rooted in the 1960’s, perfected in the 1970’s, implemented in the 1980’s, fought to standstill in the 1990’s, and that came to full power during the Presidency of George W. Bush in 2001, coupled with the most socially conservative courts and Congress in history.
Pat Buchanan and many others realized the political power of using those divisive times and issues that strike at people’s core, for political gain. They perfected these tactics. The people that have come up in conservative politics for the past generation have learned them well, and will not roll over for a speech, no matter how much of an American icon it has already become.
These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure
to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and
the failed policies of George W. Bush.
America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.
To Buchanan’s credit, he has been a harsh critic of Bush, the war, and even McCain. Perhaps he now realizes the peril of using divisivie personal issues to divide purely for power’s sake.
Obama took McCain on directly.
Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on
in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would
he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a
year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for
big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to
more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a
health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an
education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college,
or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your
For people of means that most concern McCain and Bush, the cost of birth control is no problem, and neither will they have a tough time acquiring it, no matter how hard they make it for others. But if you rely on public programs because you work an hourly wage and don’t have health insurance, and you need birth control or prenatal care, HIV services, or an abortion, your access is limited. Does John McCain care? Does he get it?
Do voters get that banning abortion, as the GOP platform and McCain propose, will not end abortion? That overturning Roe v. Wade only creates hardship and suffering for women, mothers, sisters, friends, and families.
Obama told several stories of the Americans he’s met along the way, ending that section of the speech with this.
And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her
own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from
the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being
passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who
taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car
or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She
poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer
travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her
night as well.
I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities
lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the
stories that shaped me.
Obama demonstrated he understands changes that are needed to help women who want to choose to have children.
And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s
work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same
opportunities as your sons.
He spoke to the personal responsibility that progressive policies on sexual and reproductive health are based on.
And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise
will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of
responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called
our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on
energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes
and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to
success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we
must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that
government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her
homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the
love and guidance their children need.
Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.
He spoke comfortably about the spiritual nature of America’s promise, on this night when he also embodied Dr. King’s dream.
Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that
pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us
together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on
what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to
my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make
to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and
pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines,
and women to reach for the ballot.
And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought
Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in
Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from
Georgia speak of his dream.
The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things.
They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told
to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.
But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color,
from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is
inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.
"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must
make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
America, we cannot turn back.
Wars often simmer in minor skirmishes before they break out. Such was the case of the Culture War, declared by Pat Buchanan in 1992, 25 years or so after the first battles flamed. Peace is usually negotiated over time, carefully, respectfully.
Buchanan did not declare Culture Peace last night, but he didn’t have to.
His pride in America shone through so brightly that even Obama’s unflinching support for abortion rights coupled with the need to reduce unintended pregnancies; as well as vocal support for gay rights, were seen by Buchanan, as centrist. This may be nothing more than an open door, the realization that we really do have more in common than we’ve been led to believe, that we really can resolve even the most challenging issues — perhaps not to everyone’s satisfaction — but certainly in a way that demonstrates more respect than we’ve witnessed in Washington lately.
No, we may not be ready to declare Culture Peace just yet, but in the end, somewhat ironically, it comes down to a choice. A choice every American will make in November to continue the Culture War as waged by Bush-Rove and extremist social conservatives, or to choose something different, a new way of approaching issues that go to the core of who we are. With that choice, perhaps, we create Culture Peace.
That’s why we fight for choice. For times like this, when the choosing is very important, and very personal.