last night barak obama (illinois st. senator running for senate) gave the keynote at the dnc convention. i watched it at home with A-- on msnbc (my roommate loves chris matthews; i don't know why).
it was wonderful - that is, until the pundits got to it. their main complaint: that he gave a speech full of conservative ideas. that self-reliance, responsibility, a good work ethic, faith and hope are all conservative ideals.
i think republicans are out of step with democrats. the old picture they've painted of democrats is far more suitable for the 60s or 70s than now. in particular, i look at my peers and we've never quite fit with this old picture of 60s liberalism. we appreciate the theater of it (as theater), but the real power is in policy and who it affects. while we may be supportive of those conservative targets (affirmative action, welfare, multi-culturalism) we recognize the nuances and limitations of these ideas and practices.
for instance, wouldn't affirmative action achieve its goals better if it focused on class, rather than ethnicity? isn't educational access really about who can afford it? and if my african american community is afraid to release our grip on affirmative action because we're afraid of losing that privilege, i think we need to look beyond our skin color and realize that so many of our issues are at the intersection of race and class. we need to realize that our interests lie in the empowerment of our urban poor, our rural poor, our working brothers and sisters whatever their color.
the conservative insistence that only conservatives can talk about faith, equality, responsibility and hope exposes the conservative's inability to take on complexity, which is itself an inherent conservative characteristic. they are talented at narrowing a discourse to a few signifiers, but complicate them, add color to those floating signs, and they get lost in the tall grass. suddenly, their discourse becomes petulant - 'we said that first!'
actually, they haven't. progressives have always expressed deep faith - but they've also realized that government is not in the business of imposing it on the majority. progressives have always espoused self-reliance - but they've also realized that government is also responsible for the basic needs of its citizenry. progressives have always believed in responsibility - but they've also thought that responsibility belongs to everyone, especially those in power. progressives have always fought for equality - but equality in the interest of those on the margin, not those already enjoying the fruits of privilege.
obama's performance was thrilling, moving and strategic in laying out how this party is the embodiment of traditional american values. best of all it put conservatives on the defensive, forcing an attempt to co-opt our language (and even our candidate)in order to blur the real differences between democrats and republicans.