Reflections: "I see
Obama less as a black man than as a successful negotiator of
identity margins. His ability to inhabit so many categories
mirrors the African experience. For America to choose as its
citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities
could not help but transform the nation's image, making it once
again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world
are projected." -
Nyamnjoh, Cameroonian novelist and social
scientist, 5 November 2008
" (Obama's) election rivaled the day in 1862
when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation
Proclamation and the day 101 years later when the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. delivered his
Have a Dream" speech. There's never been a moment like this
in our lifetime, ever... Obama is the
postmodern race man. He can wear it, he can take it
off, he can put it back on. It's just an aspect of his identity.
.. People don't see him primarily as black. I think people see
him primarily as an agent of change."
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard scholar of
in the Age of Empire
Yes, We Can
Speech by Barack Obama - President Elect of United States
"...And to all those watching tonight from beyond our
shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios
in the forgotten corners of our world � our stories are singular, but our
destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. ... And
to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright �
tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not
from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring
power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."
there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all
things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in
our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your
It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and
churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours
and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they
believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor,
Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay,
straight, disabled and not disabled � Americans who sent a message to the world
that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and
always will be, the United States of America.
It's the answer that led
those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and
doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and
bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this
day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.
I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and
hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he
loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to
imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and
selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have
achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise
in the months ahead.
I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man
who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on
the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice
President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.
I would not be standing
here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last
sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next
First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you
have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while
she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the
family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them
is beyond measure.
To my campaign manager
Plouffe, my chief strategist
Axelrod , and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of
politics � you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've
sacrificed to get it done.
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to � it
belongs to you.
I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We
didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched
in the halls of Washington � it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the
living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.
built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give
five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength
from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who
left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less
sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching
heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans
who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a
government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from
this Earth. This is your victory.
I know you didn't do this just to win
an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you
understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate
tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our
lifetime � two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in
the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.
There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall
asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or
save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be
created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in
one year or even one term, but America � I have never been more hopeful than I
am tonight that we will get there. I promise you � we as a people will get
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't
agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that
government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about
the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And
above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way
it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years � block by block,
brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began twenty-one
months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This
victory alone is not the change we seek � it is only the chance for us to make
that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It
cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism;
of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work
harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that
if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving
Wall Street while Main Street suffers � in this country, we rise or fall as one
nation; as one people.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and
pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us
remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the
Republican Party to the White House � a party founded on the values of
self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all
share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so
with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held
back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We
are not enemies, but friends�though passion may have strained it must not break
our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn
� I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I
will be your President too.
And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from
parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the
forgotten corners of our world � our stories are singular, but our destiny
is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who
would tear this world down � we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and
security � we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's
beacon still burns as bright � tonight we proved once more that the true
strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of
our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty,
opportunity, and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of America � that America can change. Our union
can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we
can and must achieve tomorrow.
This election had many firsts and many
stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is
about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of
others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for
one thing � Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a
generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in
the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons � because she was a
woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in
America � the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times
we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American
creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women's voices were silenced and their
hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the
ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she
saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of
common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and
tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to
greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the
buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and
a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world
was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this
election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after
106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she
knows how America can change. Yes we can.
America, we have come so far.
We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask
ourselves � if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters
should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they
see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that
call. This is our moment. This is our time � to put our people back to work and
open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the
cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental
truth � that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where
we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we
will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you
have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank
President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and
cooperation he has shown throughout this transition. Forty-four Americans have
now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides
of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is
taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has
carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office,
but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our
forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans. That we are
in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a
far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a
consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our
collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too
costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the
ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are
the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no
less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that
America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its
sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are
serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of
time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of
purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to
the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas,
that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but
in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better
history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from
generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are
free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. In
reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a
given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or
settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those
who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some
celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried
us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across
oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled
the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they
fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till
their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as
bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the
differences of birth or wealth or faction. This is the journey we continue
today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are
no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive,
our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or
last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of
protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin
again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be
done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act
- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will
build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our
commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place,
and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its
cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and
run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and
universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this
we will do. Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who
suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are
short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men
and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and
necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has
shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us
for so long no longer apply.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too
small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent
wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is
yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And
those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend
wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because
only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its
power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has
reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -
and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The
success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross
Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend
opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the
surest route to our common good. As for our common defense, we reject as false
the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a
charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by
the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not
give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments
who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my
father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man,
woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready
to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and
communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and
enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us,
nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power
grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our
cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and
restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once
more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even
greater cooperation and understanding between nations.
We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a
hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work
tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming
planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its
defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and
slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot
be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. For we know that our
patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians
and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every
language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have
tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark
chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old
hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as
the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that
America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and
mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or
blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on
what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through
corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the
wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to
unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside
you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved
bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative
plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our
borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For
the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble
gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts
and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen
heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only
because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of
service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is
precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do
and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people
upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the
levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than
see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the
firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's
willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate. Our challenges
may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values
upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play,
tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These
things are true.
They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is
demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new
era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we
have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not
grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is
nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving
our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our
confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and
children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this
magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not
have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most
sacred oath. So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far
we have traveled.
In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of
patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital
was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a
moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our
nation ordered these words be read to the people: "Let it be told to the future
world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could
survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came
forth to meet [it]." America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter
of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let
us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be
said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this
journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on
the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom
and delivered it safely to future generations.