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The President’s Speech: Obama’s New Deal–America’s Basic Bargain

(An excerpt from my blog post at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund website).

How good was President Barack Obama’s speech? In many ways, he’s hurt by the same thing that hurts all exceptional people of color who have done extraordinary things. You’re always hampered by such high expectations. And no one is expecting you to get there, again.

With Obama, we’ve been to the oratorical mountain top so many times before. But his acceptance speech this time around was just slightly different.  

At least, no one is struggling to offer such tepid praise like “it was as good as he could do,” as people did with Mitt Romney.

No, Obama gave a fine speech. But in Charlotte this week, his convention surrogates just happened to give a slightly better political speech (Bill Clinton), and a slightly better personal speech (Michelle Obama).

Considering what came before him, the president wasn’t on the ropes. He didn’t have to WOW us in Day Three’s finale.

But his message had to be a little different than the others, too.  He is, after all, the incumbent Commander-In-Chief (which he reminded us matter-of-factly, mostly by honoring our troops throughout his speech, something the GOP failed to do at its convention).

So here was Obama’s mission of the night: In a political season where the over-riding issue is a philosophical one about government, it’s size and its commitment to its people, President Obama simply had to make the case for government and our democracy.

More than just a policy speech, he was giving the civics lesson for our time, making the case for no less than liberty and justice for all— not the Republican idea of liberty and justice for some.

It became the framework of the speech, as the president laid out an “us vs them” choice  “between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

Said Obama: “Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known, the values my grandfather defended as a soldier in Patton’s Army; the values that drove my grandmother to wrok on a bomber assembly line while he was gone.

They knew they were part of something larger—a nation that triumphed over fascism and depression; a nation where the most innovative businesses turned out the world’s best products, and everyone shared in the pride and success—from the corner office to the factory floor. My grandparents were given the chance to go to college, buy their first home, and fulfill the basic bargain at the heart of America’s story: the promise that hard work will pay off, responsibility will be rewarded, that everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules—from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C.

“I ran for President because I saw that basic bargain slipping away.”

The basic bargain is Obama’s New Deal.

But we all have to believe we’re in this together and “part of something larger.” It was a sense of community you got from just looking at such a diverse and inclusive convention.  

For Asian Americans, you could see it in the crowd. We were a part of this. And then there was Konrad Ng, the president’s Asian American brother-in-law on the stage at the end looking for someone to hug.  You didn’t see anything like that in Tampa.

Nor did you hear anyone talk like the president did last night in a message to all Americans about what it means to be a citzen of this country.