Look. I'm told in the news stories about his NAACP convention speech that when he got to "the responsibility speech," the crowd started cheering louder and louder. What I sincerely hope that that crowd was cheering for is their (I think, mistaken) idea that since surely Senator Obama actually knows the truth, what this part of the speech means is, "and I know what lies to tell white America to trick them into voting for me." Whenever I bring up topics related to this, that's what some Obama volunteer from somewhere on the Internet rushes into my blog to reassure me ... as if the prospect of my candidate lying to me were somehow reassuring.
Anyway, I'm not surprised that the cheering was muted for the first 2/3rds of the speech. Skim it yourself, and you'll see it's the same old Democratic boilerplate. It really can almost be summarized as this: the Republicans told us they had a better idea than the New Deal, so we tried it, and found out that it sucks, so let's stop doing things the Republican way, and go back to what worked before. Good enough. And he's right about that, and it's why I'm still voting for him. Probably. That is, as long as I keep reminding myself, to paraphrase the legendary "wit" of Donald Rumsfeld, you go into the November elections with the candidate you have, not with the candidate you wish you had. That's the only way I can tolerate voting for a man who keeps giving this speech ...
"So yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Washington. And yes we have to demand more responsibility from Wall Street. But we also have to demand more from ourselves. Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because I believe that in the end, it doesn't matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch – none of it will make any difference if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives.... instead of the speech I wish he'd given:
"That's how we'll truly honor those who came before us. Because I know that Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown versus Board of Education so that some of us could stop doing our jobs as parents. And I know that nine little children did not walk through a schoolhouse door in Little Rock so that we could stand by and let our children drop out of school and turn to gangs for the support they are not getting elsewhere. That's not the freedom they fought so hard to achieve. That's not the America they gave so much to build. That's not the dream they had for our children.
"That's why if we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities. That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV, and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, and setting a good example. It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one. It starts by being good neighbors and good citizens who are willing to volunteer in our communities – and to help our synagogues and churches and community centers feed the hungry and care for the elderly. We all have to do our part to lift up this country."
-- Barack Obama, Speech to the 99th Annual Convention of the NAACP, 7/14/08
"But even after we do all of those things, I can not promise you that the American Dream will work for all black Americans. Still, I am here to tell you that if it doesn't work, neither will anything else. Everybody in this room knows, even if too few people in America know, that every 10 to 20 years, another batch of swindlers comes along with a new lie, steals everything that black Americans have saved, and gets away with it clean because so far, no court has ever convicted, no legislature has ever been outraged; as long as when any scam collapses, if it's black America that disproportionately gets the shaft, justice has never been served. And like everybody in this room, I know that that, not some dysfunction of our families, is why generation after generation of young black men, after watching their fathers and uncles and grandfathers get humiliated over and over again, want to think that they should try some alternative to the American Dream, like professional sports, or professional music, or organized crime. And we have got to make it clearer to them than we have ever done that the odds there are even worse. Not one black man in 100,000 who tries will ever make even a middle class living off being a celebrity or a gang banger; it just doesn't work.
"Nothing works reliably in America but the good old fashioned 17th-century American Dream, and we have got to keep reminding them, and each other, and every new immigrant, and every American of this amazing engine of personal and national wealth. Stay in school as long as you can. Get the best grades you can, and stay out of trouble. Get married and stay married. Take any job you can get, work hard and reliably at it, and go the extra mile. Spend as little as you can, save every penny you can, and invest it in only two things: not jewelry, or fancy cars, or expensive shoes and clothing, but your neighborhood, and your own kids' education. And if you do these things, you will get ahead, and your kids will get farther ahead than that. No other way of life you can try can offers you anything like the odds of the American dream.
"But you have also got to tell them, to make sure they know, what no school will tell them: every 10 to 20 years, another swarm of white people in ties will come along with a seductive new lie called 'the next big thing' or 'the new economy.' They will explain to you in words so sweet that the reason the white people are wealthier than you is because they knew to invest early in this 'new economy.' Friends, when that man darkens your door, that is Satan himself talking through him. Treat him accordingly, and then pray your hardest that none of your friends or family members listens to his lies. Because if they do, then only a couple of years from now, you're going to lose everything you saved bailing them out after he's long gone, and their money is gone, and this 'new economy' is revealed to be what it has been every 10 to 20 years since Emancipation: a pyramid scheme that is running out of suckers, or else they wouldn't be peddling it in the black neighborhoods.
"And that's why, as your President, I will make absolutely sure that the Justice Department investigates those who peddled the last worthless dregs of the 'teaser rate' home loans on massively overvalued, essentially worthless homes, who sold you loans that they knew you'd never be able to refinance or pay off, because they didn't want your loan payments, or even your house after the 'gotcha' in that paperwork sucks all the savings you have out of the bank; they wrecked your life for one more loan origination fee. They were willing to destroy two million Americans' lives for a relative pittance, because they were that sure that the country would let them get away with it as long as so many of the victims were black. That has got to end. I can not promise you that I can get you back your money, although I promise you I will try. I don't even know if I can promise that I can save the houses you invested in, although with the help of Democrats in Congress, I will move heaven and earth to try. But while I'm trying to do those things, what I ask from you in return is that you learn to recognize a pyramid scheme, and you teach your children not to fall for them either, so that the American Dream can work as well for black Americans as it has always worked for all other Americans."
I can dream, can't I? This is the man who told me "there is nothing false about hope."
But I do know this: I will never again let pass the lie that it's black Americans' fault that they keep giving up on the American Dream until I start seeing racist scum "investment" peddlers serving hard felony time. Or as the authors of Get Your War On put it four years ago, before the latest round of outrages, when we still hadn't done anything yet to any of the scamsters behind so many completely worthless dot-com stocks, and Bush still thought he was going to get away with destroying Social Security: