Barack Obama's Keynote Speech
The 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston had one main purpose: to
nominate Senator John Kerry to be the Democratic candidate for president. The
party called on all speakers to tone down anti-George Bush rhetoric, hoping to
prevent the party from being portrayed as just an opposition party. Many
pundits felt that this directive made the convention bland and unexciting.
The keynote speaker for the convention was Barack Obama. Obama was a member
of the Illinois State Senate, and the only black candidate for a seat in the
United States Senate in 2004. Obama was a graduate of Harvard and a lecturer
for the University of Chicago Law School. Obama would end up winning that seat
in 2004, and in January of 2009, this same man would be sworn in as the
nation's new president.
While Obama's speech is highly partisan in several places (it was the
keynote at a nominating convention after all), it puts into modern words many
of the principles of America, including equality and opportunity. The speech is
presented here in the tradition of the Declaration of
Independence and of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a
Dream Speech. The speech is reproduced in full below, based on a transcript
presented by the New York Times.
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so
much. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Dick Durbin. You make
us all proud.
On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, Land of
Lincoln, let me express my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing
Tonight is a particular honor for me because - let's face it - my presence
on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and
raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in
a tin-roof shack. His father - my grandfather - was a cook, a domestic servant
to the British.
But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and
perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America,
that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come
While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the
other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms
through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather
signed up for duty; joined Patton's army, marched across Europe. Back home, my
grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After
the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through FHA, and later
moved west all the way to Hawaii in search of opportunity.
And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter. A common dream, born of
My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith
in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name,
Barack, or "blessed," believing that in a tolerant America your name is no
barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land,
even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to
be rich to achieve your potential.
They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they
look down on me with great pride.
I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my
parents' dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that
my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of
those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story
Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation - not because of
the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our
economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a
declaration made over two hundred years ago: "We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their
Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness."
That is the true genius of America - a faith in simple dreams, an
insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and
know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we
think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we
can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe. That we can
participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our
votes will be counted at least, most of the time.
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our
commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring
up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.
And fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents - I say to you
tonight: we have more work to do. More work to do for the workers I met in
Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's
moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for
jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father that I met who was
losing his job and choking back the tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a
month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits that he counted
on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like
her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn't have the
money to go to college.
Now don't get me wrong. The people I meet - in small towns and big cities,
in diners and office parks - they don't expect government to solve all their
problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead - and they want to.
Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they
don't want their tax money wasted, by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.
Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government
alone can't teach our kids to learn - they know that parents have to teach,
that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the
television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book
is acting white. They know those things.
People don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense,
deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make
sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors
of opportunity remain open to all.
They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
In this election, we offer that choice. Our Party has chosen a man to lead
us who embodies the best this country has to offer. And that man is John Kerry.
John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and service because
they've defined his life. From his heroic service to Vietnam, to his years as a
prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States
Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we've seen him
make tough choices when easier ones were available.
His values - and his record - affirm what is best in us. John Kerry believes
in an America where hard work is rewarded; so instead of offering tax breaks to
companies shipping jobs overseas, he offers them to companies creating jobs
here at home.
John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same
health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves.
John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren't held hostage to the
profits of oil companies, or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.
John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our
country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties,
nor use faith as a wedge to divide us.
And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world war must be an option
sometimes, but it should never be the first option.
You know, a while back, I met a young man named Shamus [Seamus?] in a VFW
Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two, six-three,
clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he'd joined the Marines, and was
heading to Iraq the following week. And as I listened to him explain why he'd
enlisted, the absolute faith he had in our country and its leaders, his
devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all that any of us
might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as
well as he is serving us?
I thought of the 900 men and women - sons and daughters, husbands and wives,
friends and neighbors, who won't be returning to their own hometowns. I thought
of the families I've met who were struggling to get by without a loved one's
full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves
shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were
When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn
obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going,
to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon
their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war,
secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world.
These enemies must be found. They must be pursued - and they must be defeated.
John Kerry knows this.
And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect
the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one
moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure.
John Kerry believes in America. And he knows that it's not enough for just
some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another
ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we're all connected as one
If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that
matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere
who can't pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine
and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If
there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney
or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my
brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's
what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as
one American family.
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the
spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything
goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a
conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a
Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -
there's the United States of America.
The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States
and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But
I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and
we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.
We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we've got some gay friends
in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are
patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes,
all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that's what this
election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we
participate in a politics of hope?
John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope.
I'm not talking about blind optimism here - the almost willful ignorance
that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't think about it, or the
health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That's not what I'm
talking about. I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of
slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants
setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely
patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy
the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America
has a place for him, too.
Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The
audacity of hope! In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of
this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days
I believe that we can give our middle class relief and provide working
families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the
jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across
America from violence and despair. I believe that we have a righteous wind at
our backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the
right choices, and meet the challenges that face us.
America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the
same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion I do, if you feel the same
hopefulness that I do - if we do what we must do, then I have no doubts that
all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the
people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president,
and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will
reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day
Thank you very much everybody. God bless you. Thank you.