Barack Obama's victory speech from South Carolina tonight was remarkable — a gorgeous, inspiring oratory that was stirring, exciting, gripping and inspiring and officially gave me goosebumps.
It was also unbelievably smart. In it, he expertly wove his own message of hope and change with the messages of his opponents, co-opting the themes of John Edwards in decrying lobbyists and Hillary Clinton in crying out for health care, holding himself out as the lone purveyor of hope and change, the messenger fighting against all those who would stand between him and the promise of the America of his vision. In case you are wondering, that includes Hillary and Bill Clinton. But after expertly dispatching them, he goes far further and drives it home, in the ringing tones of a preacher (watch and learn, Mike Huckabee) and in the language of movement and momentum. It is an astonishing speech, and far more significant than the much-heralded one he gave in Iowa, because this is the speech he gave after being beaten, challenged, and having to come back and fight. There's more than a touch of the warrior in this speech, just as there's more than a touch of a president.
Watch it here, courtesy of MSNBC:
Obama looked more commanding yet more comfortable here than I have ever seen him. After his victory in Iowa, what struck me about his speech was a moment at the beginning, before he even began to speak: He shushed the crowd. I pulled the clip and put it on YouTube here, because I found it so interesting: There he was, buoyed on the wings of an incredible, historic victory, and yet he refused to surrender to the joy of the crowd. His thank-yous before his speech were meant to quiet the crowd, his hands held up to silence them. By contrast, tonight he smiled broadly and often, and seemed to be every bit in the moment, driven by it as much as driving it.
On to the speech. As I said above, it was beautiful — gorgeously written and delivered, with the cadences of a preacher, made more evident by the cadences of the crowd response, vocally affirming and emphasizing certain points as he went through. The speech — and the delivery — had real emotion, and the one defining emotion that had been missing previously in Iowa and New Hampshire was this one: Anger. That was a real undercurrent of his speech, anger and impatience and defiance, and man did it play well.
Consider the block below, where he differentiates between himself and Hillary, and Bill. If it were just about the party, then he and Clinton would be on the same side. But oh no. His was the fight against the status quo, and guess who that was? Here he borrowed from John Edwards after Iowa, by the way, just how he lifted Edwards' line from the debate about how petty squabbling was distracting from solving real problems. Obama drove the shiv home from the outset, effectively painting the Clintons as just as much of the problem facing America as he was the solution. See below:
There are real differences between the candidates.
We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington. (Huge cheer.) It's a status quo that extends beyond any particular party...and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it's got.
With the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care that folks can't afford or a mortgage they cannot pay.
So this will not be...easy. Make no mistake about what we're up against.
We're up against the belief that it's all right for lobbyists to dominate our government. That they are just part of the system in Washington. But we know that the undue influence of lobbyists is part of the problem and this election is our chance to say that we are not going to let them stand in our way anymore.
We're up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as President comes from longevity in Washington. Or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose. A higher purpose.
We're up against decades of bitter partisanship that caused politicians to demonize opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable. Or energy cleaner. It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea. Even if it's one you never agreed with. That's the kind of partisanship that is bad for our party, it is bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.
We're up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. But we know that this is exactly what's wrong with our politics. This is why people don't believe what their leaders say anymore. This is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.
This sets up Clinton — and longtime pol Edwards, to a certain extent — as part of the status quo problem who said after Iowa that it was just a fluke, that they couldn't win again (that, by the way, is how Obama opened — though the press after Iowa was almost uniformly glowing for the opposite reason, saying his candidacy had legs. But this time around he's learned that there are virtues to being the underdog.) But that line about "proximity to the White House?" Look for that to be quoted in the days to come. A true zinger.
Having dealt with his rivals, he had the whole second half of his speech to drive it home, expanding to a broader message of hope, saying he refused to believe that differences of religion, socioeconomic class, and color could divide the country of his vision:
I didn't travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina, or a black South Carolina — I saw South Carolina.
He goes on to talk about how he saw "Men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag." It's the language of inclusion, the language of us-against-them — which, taken together, is the language of a movement:
I saw what America is and I believe in what this country can be. That is the country I see. That is the country you see. But now it is up to us to help the entire nation embrace this vision.
Obama underscored his point with real, human examples of the need for change: The mother who needs medicaid for her sick child, the teacher who works an extra shift at Dunkin' Donuts who needs a better education system, or — in a callback to Iowa — the Matyag worker who's now competing with his own teenager for a $7/hour job at Walmart because the factory he gave his life to closed its doors, the woman who told him that she "hasn't been able to breathe" since her nephew went to Iraq, the soldier who's missing his kid grow up through his third, fourth, fifth tour of duty — "they need us to come together to put an end to a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged."
Strong stuff, made stronger with a juxtaposition to his rivals: "There are those who will continue to tell us that we can't do this, that we can't have what we are looking for, that we're peddling false hopes." That is about as subtle a reference to Clinton as the part about "proximity to the White House." Here is where, for me, he drove it home:
I think of that elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day, a money order for three dollars and one cent, along with a verse of scripture tucked inside the envelope. So don't tell me change isn't possible. That woman knows that change is possible.
Wow. A breathtaking image, a powerful image of hope — the hope that $3.01 can buy — with a little kick at the end invoking the Bible, lest there be those who forget that Barack Obama is a Christian, too. From there, it was less a sprint than a soar to the finish, and damned if even the Clintons wouldn't have been inspired by that ending:
Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can seize our future.
And we leave this great state with a new wind at our backs and we take this journey across this great country, a country we love with the message we've carried from the plains of Iow to the hills of New Hampshire, from the Nevada desert to the SC coast,
The same message we had when we were up and when we were down: That out of many we are one, that while we breathe we will hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words: YES. WE. CAN.
His polling may not look like it — Clinton's leading in most states going into Super Tuesday — but after a speech like that, I think that Barack Obama is the guy to beat.
Full text of Obama's remarks after the jump.
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
South Carolina Primary Night
Saturday, January 26th, 2008
Columbia, South Carolina
Over two weeks ago, we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time
for change has come. But there were those who doubted this country's
desire for something new - who said Iowa was a fluke not to be
Well, tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of
Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good
people of South Carolina.
After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the
most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of
Americans we've seen in a long, long time.
They are young and old; rich and poor. They are black and white;
Latino and Asian. They are Democrats from Des Moines and Independents
from Concord; Republicans from rural Nevada and young people across
this country who've never had a reason to participate until now. And
in nine days, nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us
in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are
hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again.
But if there's anything we've been reminded of since Iowa, it's that
the kind of change we seek will not come easy. Partly because we have
fine candidates in the field - fierce competitors, worthy of respect.
And as contentious as this campaign may get, we have to remember that
this is a contest for the Democratic nomination, and that all of us
share an abiding desire to end the disastrous policies of the current
But there are real differences between the candidates. We are looking
for more than just a change of party in the White House. We're
looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington - a
status quo that extends beyond any particular party. And right now,
that status quo is fighting back with everything it's got; with the
same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems
people face, whether those problems are health care they can't afford
or a mortgage they cannot pay.
So this will not be easy. Make no mistake about what we're up against.
We are up against the belief that it's ok for lobbyists to dominate
our government - that they are just part of the system in Washington.
But we know that the undue influence of lobbyists is part of the
problem, and this election is our chance to say that we're not going
to let them stand in our way anymore.
We are up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to
lead as President comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to
the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor,
and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of
life around a common purpose - a higher purpose.
We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause
politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to
make college affordable or energy cleaner; it's the kind of
partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican
had an idea - even if it's one you never agreed with. That kind of
politics is bad for our party, it's bad for our country, and this is
our chance to end it once and for all.
We are up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do
anything to win an election. We know that this is exactly what's
wrong with our politics; this is why people don't believe what their
leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out. And this election is
our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.
And what we've seen in these last weeks is that we're also up against
forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits
that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation. It's the
politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon.
A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote
within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us. The
assumption that young people are apathetic. The assumption that
Republicans won't cross over. The assumption that the wealthy care
nothing for the poor, and that the poor don't vote. The assumption
that African-Americans can't support the white candidate; whites can't
support the African-American candidate; blacks and Latinos can't come
But we are here tonight to say that this is not the America we believe
in. I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a
white South Carolina or a black South Carolina. I saw South Carolina.
I saw crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black
children and white children. I saw shuttered mills and homes for sale
that once belonged to Americans from all walks of life, and men and
women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together,
and bleed together under the same proud flag. I saw what America is,
and I believe in what this country can be.
That is the country I see. That is the country you see. But now it
is up to us to help the entire nation embrace this vision. Because in
the end, we are not just up against the ingrained and destructive
habits of Washington, we are also struggling against our own doubts,
our own fears, and our own cynicism. The change we seek has always
required great struggle and sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our
own hearts and minds about what kind of country we want and how hard
we're willing to work for it.
So let me remind you tonight that change will not be easy. That
change will take time. There will be setbacks, and false starts, and
sometimes we will make mistakes. But as hard as it may seem, we
cannot lose hope. Because there are people all across this country
who are counting us; who can't afford another four years without
health care or good schools or decent wages because our leaders
couldn't come together and get it done.
Theirs are the stories and voices we carry on from South Carolina.
The mother who can't get Medicaid to cover all the needs of her sick
child - she needs us to pass a health care plan that cuts costs and
makes health care available and affordable for every single American.
The teacher who works another shift at Dunkin Donuts after school just
to make ends meet - she needs us to reform our education system so
that she gets better pay, and more support, and her students get the
resources they need to achieve their dreams.
The Maytag worker who is now competing with his own teenager for a
$7-an-hour job at Wal-Mart because the factory he gave his life to
shut its doors - he needs us to stop giving tax breaks to companies
that ship our jobs overseas and start putting them in the pockets of
working Americans who deserve it. And struggling homeowners. And
seniors who should retire with dignity and respect.
The woman who told me that she hasn't been able to breathe since the
day her nephew left for Iraq, or the soldier who doesn't know his
child because he's on his third or fourth tour of duty - they need us
to come together and put an end to a war that should've never been
authorized and never been waged.
The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or
genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is
not about black versus white.
It's about the past versus the future.
It's about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions
and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a
politics of common sense, and innovation - a shared sacrifice and
There are those who will continue to tell us we cannot do this. That
we cannot have what we long for. That we are peddling false hopes.
But here's what I know. I know that when people say we can't overcome
all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of the elderly
woman who sent me a contribution the other day - an envelope that had
a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside.
So don't tell us change isn't possible.
When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can't
join together and work together, I'm reminded of the Latino brothers
and sisters I organized with, and stood with, and fought with side by
side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don't tell us
change can't happen.
When I hear that we'll never overcome the racial divide in our
politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for
Strom Thurmond, who's now devoted to educating inner-city children and
who went out onto the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors
for this campaign. Don't tell me we can't change.
Yes we can change.
Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can seize our future.
And as we leave this state with a new wind at our backs, and take this
journey across the country we love with the message we've carried from
the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire; from the Nevada
desert to the South Carolina coast; the same message we had when we
were up and when we were down - that out of many, we are one; that
while we breathe, we hope; and where we are met with cynicism, and
doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that
timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people in three simple
Yes. We. Can.