Friday, October 21, 2016

Keeping Our Better Angels Alive

In the course of this campaign, Hillary Clinton has grown into the role she now seems destined to play, that of President of the United States.  But the revelation--the joyful revelation-- of this campaign is Michelle Obama.

She was The Closer for Barack Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012.  She wowed the world with her speech at the Democratic National Convention this year.  And her recent speech in New Hampshire, so many say, is destined to be the most memorable of the campaign.

But if you want to know why she was The Closer for Barack, and why she is the Closer for Hillary, this speech in Phoenix on Thursday is exhibit A.

I know what this kind of speech at this time close to the election is supposed to do: it's to remind people why they're for somebody (and why they're against somebody) while convincing the few who aren't sure; it's to motivate and inspire voters and volunteers, with a call to ideals and purpose, with the urgency of the moment, with the sense of enthusiastic belonging to an important cause.  It's to thrill.

And nobody does this better than Michelle Obama.  From the moment she stands on stage and then begins speaking in that unique voice, perfect diction yet informal, a clear voice that throbs with feeling and energy, it is impossible not to listen enthralled.

In this speech she does all those things by grasping the feeling of the moment--the shock and despair brought on by Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.  She gets to it by getting back to the Obama theme: hope.  She further elucidates its meaning in this campaign context, starting with a line that will live on beyond this speech:

"Hope is what keeps our better angels alive. It’s been the driving force behind everything we’ve achieved these last eight years, and it’s been at the heart of my life and my husband’s life since the day we were born.

And I think one of the reasons this election has been so difficult for so many of us is because that's what’s being lost; in all the hateful, hurtful rhetoric we’ve been hearing, we’re losing hope."

She relates the concept to the struggles of people whose goals for themselves and especially for others are focused by hope.  That hope, she says, is realistic because of American equality and the opportunity it provides.  Equality implies diversity and tolerance, civility and paying what you owe.

She speaks with authority on the demands of the presidency. "Because here’s the thing about Hillary, she is a policy wonk -- and let me tell you, just for the record, when you are President that is a good thing. (Laughter and applause.) When you are President, being able to clearly articulate detailed plans to help the people of this country is a good thing. (Applause.) Knowing what you’re doing is a good thing. (Applause.)

Many today have reviled Trump for refusing to say he will abide by the election results, but few have articulated why that's monstrous, other than it's the common stance of a putative dictator:

"...we are fortunate to live in a country where the voters decide our elections, the voters decide who wins and loses. Period. End of story. And when a presidential candidate threatens to ignore our voices and reject the outcome of this election, he is threatening the very idea of America itself -- and we cannot stand for that. (Applause.)

You do not keep American democracy “in suspense.” Because look, too many people have marched and protested and fought and died for this democracy. (Applause.) Please."

With words to motivate people in the crowd to gather the votes necessary to turn Arizona blue, she imparts a general message that we all need to hear:

"So let me just say this, do not let yourself get tired, or frustrated, or disgusted by everything we’ve seen in this campaign. As you’re out there working your hearts out, here’s what I want you to be: Please be encouraged. Please be encouraged. If I leave you with one thing, be encouraged."

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