Perhaps "Act of God" may seem far-fetched, but the forces that made this weekend the one for Barack Obama's sppech at the Martin Luther King memorial dedication are surely big ones.
Originally planned for August 28th, the dedication was postponed - at almost the last minute - when it was clear that Hurricane Irene, combined with that week's Virginia's earthquake, would make holding the ceremony impossible. That weekend, of course, would have the historical significance of commemorating Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech.
Two months later, it turns out, you can still have a lot of impact.
Today's speec, in some ways, might be seen as the speech that was much that his inauguration wasn't - not least because Aretha Franklin sang at both, and today was in far better voice with material that suits her best ("Take My Hand, Precious Lord" - shivers). But this was a day that also favored Obama himself; who, in many ways, has always aimed himself at being a very good inheitor of King's legacy, rather than becoming a great President. Taliking big picture, aiming to uplift the crowd, the President is on his strongest ground where faith and politics and a sense of higher purpose meet. And they surely meet at the foot of a giant piece of granite carved in the image of Dr. King.
The Presidnt's speech touched on the themes of Dr. King's life - the search for social justice, the demand that we be a better nation with a sense of a higher purpose. He quoted King, but most of it wasn't obvious or easy - many would have naturally clipped the most familiar lines, but Obama didn't need them. It's easier after all, when in so many ways you naturally embody the dream of a world beyond segregation.
More pointedly, the President took this moment, so well timed, to draw together the threads of social protest and the demands for social justice that come to us from the Civil Rights era and exist today in Occupy Wall Street. He both honored the importance of protest to force change and recognized the pain and suffering of so many, while challenging everyone, protestors or not, to see that real change takes hard work. And, more than he has in the past, the President didn't make his case theoretical or oblique; he spoke, clearly and squarely, about our current condition.
I was most impressed because Obama gave voice to things that have been top of my oen mind when it comes to these protests - the sense that we need to see one another, first and foremost, as human, in all our flaws and prospects. He spoke of the work of making change by finding the sense of commonality, the sense of thigs we share, our duty to one another, to help one another, and make sure everyone has a chance.
The speech was the most pointed evidence yet that it's absurd to count this President out in next year's election. This is a speech that could never have come from Mitt Romney, never mind Rick Perry, or darling of the moment Herman Cain. Contrast Obama's moment on the natonal stage with Cain's modestly successful, but frustrating appearance this morning on Meet the Press, and much of Cain's sense of "momentum" seems trite. Republicans can't win this election, never mind make it into the kind of referendum they want on the President, until they have a way to combat the President's ability to talk about the positives and our potential. America, as the President said, is a nation of optimists. We do not wind up electing people whose best argument is reminding us of our failings.
Liberals, too, who grouse about this President's flaws and failings also need to face that, at his best, there's a reason so many people find Obama inspiring and impressive. He talks a good game. He connects with some of our best liberal impulses to help others. In hemself and in his own story reside so much of what the left fought for, for so long: a mixed race man, educated and intelligent, who sees the possibilities for others.Those who oppose him need to be clearer, more direct on what they would do differently. And why.
None of this is some sudden conversion on my part. I've said from the outset that there are things to admire in the President. The parts of his story that resonate with me, so much of what our lives are that are a direct result of the work of Dr. King, have always been the base of my own support for him. The problem, as I said, comes from translating these great theories and ideas of which he speaks into action. on that he's been mostly a failure, and I don't see that changing any time soon. But the President, today, gave a good reminder that when we think about change, what we deal with is a choice. Those who want the kind of justice and social change that Dr. King embodied in his life and work will have a choice next year about how to create change. Many, I think, will continue to see Barack Obama as the worst best option, but that, in the end, may be the only choice. Today's speech, I think, made his best case, right now, for his reelection. He makes it well. If we want more than that... well, that's where we have a lot of work yet to do.