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August 28, 2013 4:11 PM Obama and the Promised Land

By Ed Kilgore

Well, the president just finished his speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington. Here’s a rushed transcript. And here’s the video:

I don’t get the sense from Twitter that it is going to be greeted as a remarkable address. Many conservatives will dislike its reminders that the 1963 march was about economic inequality as much as legal discrimination. Some MSMers will probably describe it as a revival of Obama’s “partisan” 2012 campaign rhetoric, or as a precursor of a tough fiscal fight in the days just ahead. Some progressives will think it wasn’t tough enough or clear enough, and made too many rhetorical concessions to the need for bipartisanship or to the claims that minority folk bear some responsibility for their own condition.

What struck me most about it was that it seemed a wistful tribute by a politician hemmed in by politics to a social movement that alone has the power to overcome the resistance to change. “Change does not come from Washington but to Washington,” Obama said, and while some may view that as an abdication of responsibility, it’s more a plain fact of the long struggle for justice and equality. This passage in particular seemed a recognition that Obama—once thought to be the Joshua who would bring the civil rights movement into the promised land its “Moses generation” could not reach—was passing the torch to the next generation:

There’s a reason why so many who marched that day and in the days to come were young, for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream different and to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose serves in this generation.

I don’t think the president was referring to his contemporaries or the grey-beards of Congress. And for all his accomplishments, and even though he’s less than a year into his second term, that could become the enduring tragedy of his presidency.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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