Barack Obama's great rhetorical talent seems to be giving his audience permission to feel optimism. Cynicism, apathy, and doubt are easy defaults, especially, perhaps, for those of us who came of age in the 80s and early 90s. Reagonomics. Ironic popular culture. David Letterman. Social movements of the previous generation providing not inspiration but rather punchlines on sitcoms like Family Ties. Julianna Hatfield singing "I Got No Idols."
We watched Obama's acceptance speech at a party attended mostly by members of our church. Left-leaning Catholics, some who live in the city and some in the suburbs, some black and some white. A group as partisan as the crowd gathered in that huge football stadium, to be sure, who clapped at Obama's punchy quips ("eight is enough") and promises (tax cuts for 95% of Americans, health care for all). A crowd mindful of yesterday's Free Press story about new census data that designates Detroit as the most impoverished large city in the country. A crowd that appreciated Obama's call for optimism.
In addition to optimism, the other feeling in the room was history. The making of history. Not just because Obama is the first black American to accept a major party's domination for president of the U.S. History because we've lived through too many years of an illegal, immoral, pre-emptive war. History because deficits are so high and so many people don't have health care. History. Where were you when people felt like they could be a little bit optimistic?