We are on the cusp of a new politics in America. It should be dated from March 18, 2008, the date of Barack Obama’s landmark speech, A More Perfect Union. The usual pundits have looked mainly at the speech’s surface theme: race. They weren’t wrong. It was indeed the most important statement about race in recent history.
But it was much more. It was a general call to a new politics and an outline for what it needs to be. Just as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was about much more than the war dead on that battlefield, so Obama’s speech-widely hailed as in the same ballpark as Lincoln’s-went beyond race to the nature of America, its ideals, and its future.
To get an appreciation for the greatness of Obama’s speech, we have to start with its context: What were the problems Obama faced in writing it, and what were the constraints on him?
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute, and author of the forthcoming “The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain,” available June 2, 2008, Viking/Penguin.