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50 Years After Selma: Moral Clarity, Leadership and Our Exceptional Story

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Today brought many back 50 years.  I am not quite that old, but today brought me back about 11 years just the same.  It was in July of 2004 that Senator Barack Obama gave a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Being the child of a quintessential "Reagan Democrat" couple, I have always been interested in those among the Democrats that seemed to hold on to some of the moderate - if not outright conservative - values of the Democratic party during the JFK years.  Ideas like "a rising tide lifts all boats" - which Kennedy used to explain tax cuts - and the strong backbone in the face of Soviet tyranny are all but dead among today's Democrat party.  Names like Zel Miller and Sam Nunn mean something to me, but I doubt there are many Democrats younger than I who remember them.

That is why 11 years ago, listening to Barack Obama's convention speech, I thought "maybe there are some among the younger Democrats who I could support."  There was a lot in that speech that encouraged me.  I was reminded of that this morning listening to President Obama speak at the commemoration of the march in Selma, Alabama.

If there is a subject on which the President speaks most comfortably - and on which he actually leads with confidence - it is the significance of the civil rights movement for our future together.  This is leadership others in the civil rights community have utterly failed at.  Instead of always looking back and nurturing grievances - and building an industry around them - President Obama seems to want to look forward and call us to renew our commitment to interpreting the significance of our national identity of ideas.  I am happy to support him on this.  But I am left wondering...

Why can't this confident leadership extend beyond our borders?  The President made a passing reference to the hopes of the young people of The Ukraine.  If ever there was a setting for that, this speech was it.  But those hopes called for much more than a passing reference which did not even amount to a complete sentence.  The unique, exceptional nature of our identity of ideas seems to really bother the Kremlin.  It should.  Segregating the future based on ethnicity - be that Russian ethnicity or any other - is to pine for the past.  The call to transcend national identities of ethnicity and religion in favor of the ideas of human freedom and rights which precede government is the call to redeem the future from the violence of the past.  The young people of the Ukraine - too free to be intimidated by those too timid to be free - are a herald of this call.

We should join them.  And that requires leadership from our President.  He was spectacularly up to an important moment today.  Is he up the important moments of the next two years?  These will be moments for the moral clarity we heard this morning on our life together among the races.  

President Obama seems to settle on a theme: Not every problem has a military solution.  But when the problem is being prosecuted by military means, credible military options are the sine qua non ("that without which") of credible diplomatic leadership.

I am sure there will be no lack of conservative voices who will mine today's speech for things to criticize.  I have no desire to join that chorus.  President Obama was spectacular this morning.  If only - now freed from having to run a campaign - this could be harbinger of leadership and moral clarity to come.

We can only hope.

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