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Rick Horowitz

Rick Horowitz

Posted: November 7, 2008 09:55 AM

"Support I Have Yet to Earn": Obama's Victory Speech


"I guess a community organizer is sort of like a small-town mayor, except that you have actual responsibilities."

"And actual accomplishments," Barack Obama might have added, had he actually uttered that first sentence on Tuesday night. But being a more charitable sort than you or I would have been under similar circumstances, he somehow resisted the urge to have a last laugh on those who had spent months mocking that particular line of work.

Barack Obama was in the No-Gloat Zone. For his very first speech as president-elect -- in his hometown of Chicago, with the country watching and the rest of the world riveted -- Obama crafted a message with much of the scope and power of an inaugural address.

The closest he ever came to payback was that subtle shout-out to those who, he said, make and remake this nation "the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand." Do you need a better definition of "community organizing"?

Instead of words he didn't say, what stood out were a few that he did. They came right after the part of his speech where he vowed to stand against the "partisanship and pettiness and immaturity" that have "poisoned our politics for so long." Right after the part where he quoted Lincoln assuring the fevered partisans of an even more divided time that "We are not enemies, but friends," and that "though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."

That's when he said it:


"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."

"To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn..."

Not, you'll notice, "To those Americans who didn't vote for me..."

"To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn..."

The failure, Obama clearly suggested, was his, not theirs. He had had to "earn" their support -- not expect it, not assume it. And he had come up short. He would still listen to these people, he promised them, though they had voted for someone else or hadn't voted at all. He would still depend on them; without them, success would be more difficult. And he would still labor for them as their president -- as everyone's president. But he recognized his unfinished business: He hadn't done whatever it was he needed to do to merit their blessing. Yet.

"To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn..."

If we know anything about Barack Obama, we know that he chooses his words with uncommon care. For that speech, in that moment, he would have insisted on the greatest precision -- every word in its place for a reason. Were these humble words? Perhaps. Faced with all the challenges that confront him, who wouldn't be humble? But these were also the words of a determined man. A confident man.

"To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn..."

Watch that space.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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