Today, Sen. Barack Obama addressed Detroit business leaders -- and anyone else who could snag a ticket to the Detroit Economic Club's sold-out luncheon. I was the guest of my friend Rick. Thank goodness, because I don't usually have the bank (or well, the desire) to roll with this kind of crowd!
I went in with reduced expectations. While deathly serious, I feared that a speech tailored to the auto industry might be deathly boring. Also, I know that the Senator is pacing himself; we wouldn't see the Glorious Obama of the convention. I didn't want to be one of those disappointed people I've read about, folks who attend small town-halls in Iowa and expect to be blown away, and instead get a man whose perfectly attuned for the occasion: serious, present, wonky, but not slam-dunking shots when bank shots will do.
Let me say this another way: anyone who expects Sen. Obama to give "I Have a Dream" speeches everyday needs to rethink their expectations.
If you read coverage of the speech, you'll read about his call to increase fuel efficiency, and more importantly, his call to radically diminish our dependency on fossil fuels. These words on paper might have seemed very mild, but in a room full of Detroit business and union leaders, they came off as strong, sober, and instructional.
I listened to his policy prescriptions. I will leave it to others better studied to debate their individual merits. I just know that I found myself not just moved, but electrified, when he spoke of the big picture; that we as Americans need to be pushed towards a higher calling, and now is the time. The message he had for us was this: it's time not just for another Detroit miracle, but for an American miracle.
He took us back to WWII. He spoke of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and how he dared to attempt to do something that even his closest advisers warned might be impossible: retool American factories to create the great war machine. He spoke of how Detroit was central to this American Miracle. And now, if we're going to "end the tyranny of oil" in our lifetime, Detroit must be a miraculous city once more.
And as the Senator later added: "expensive to do is not an excuse not to do."
Later, he spoke of President Bush, and how after 9-11, Americans ached to be called to sacrifice, to be moved to work together towards a common goal (beyond shopping and stockpiling duct tape).
I can already feel some of you thinking, well, what's so special about this rhetoric. Well, nothing. The magic wasn't in the speech. The magic was in the man making the speech. Any politician can say these things. Many of them try to move us. Many of them fail. Sen. Obama succeeded because of something that doesn't show up in a speech text -- his formidable personal power, the sense conveyed that he believes fully what he's saying, and if elected president, he would push us to make these hard sacrifices that would lead all of us to a greater good.
I left excited. I left thinking that I finally witnessed Sen. Barack's magic in the flesh. But after further thought, I don't think it was magic at all. It was conviction. He came into that room like a man-in-charge. Not a blowhard "decider," but a man-in-charge with wisdom, who had strong ideas and ideals and the endurance to keep pushing and to enlist us, the public, as his infantry, to make these changes happen on the ground.
So yes, Sen. Obama spoke of miracles. I hope Detroit, and America, were listening.