On the final day of a largely inspiring Take Back America progressive conference, Sen. Barack Obama offered, in a powerful, well-received speech, a searing critique of Bush administration policies, borrowing from Newt Gingrich's recommended attack phrase, "Had enough?" Yet at the same time he provided reassurance and hope for progressives. He told us that we know who we are and we stand for goals that appeal to the best in Americans: "The time for our identity crisis as progressives is over. Don't let anybody tell you that we don't know what we stand for."
He won applause, though, without providing a specific plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Divisions over Iraq among Democratic leaders became the focus of much of the mainstream coverage of the event, missing the broader "Common Good" agenda for change offered by some Democratic leaders and activists at the conference.
Obama captured that uplifting theme well and showed in a smart way how to put forward a positive program for Democrats. Here's some excerpts from a transcript, picking up after his critique of the Administration's failures on health care, Iraq and Katrina, and its underlying Social Darwinism:
Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on self-reliance and individual initiative and a belief in the free market.
But it's also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, our sense that we have a stake in each other's success.
You know, that everybody should have a shot at opportunity.
Americans understand this. They know the government can't solve all their problems, but they expect the government can help because they know it's an expression of what they're learning in Sunday school, what they learn in their church, in their synagogue, in their mosque, a basic moral precept that says that I have to look out for you and I have responsibility for you and you have responsibility for me; that I am your keeper and your are mine.
That's what America is.
And so I am eager to have this argument with the Republican Party about the core philosophy of America, about what our story is. We shouldn't shy away from that debate.
The time for our identity crisis as progressives is over. Don't let anybody tell you that we don't know what we stand for.
On the same day that Obama was giving his speech, the Democratic leadership offered a litany of ideas, billed as a "New Direction" for America, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage, etc.