Look, I think it's easier to be cynical and just say, "You know what, it can't be done because Washington's designed to resist change." But in fact there have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better, and I think we're in one of those moments right now. I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes -- not incremental changes, not small changes.As with many of Obama's best formulations, this seemed simultaneously to rise to the moment and be the fruit of long reflection. He exactly captured the strength and the weakness of the Clinton presidency in an assessment that is generous, fair, but dead-on accurate as a critique. Bill Clinton outmaneuvered the Republicans year after year on budget essentials but he never built the coalition (generous of Obama to say "we never built...) to reform health care, or revamp energy policy, or build any other major policy bridge to the 21st century. Hillary would say that's because the vast right-wing conspiracy sabotaged them at every turn. But Bill kept handing them swords to gore him, so he never built the trust that underlies a mandate. So Obama manages to bury Clinton and to praise him. "I give him enormous credit" but....
I actually give Bill Clinton enormous credit for having balanced those budgets during those years. It did take political courage for him to do that. But we never built the majority and coalesced the American people around being able to get the other stuff done.
And, you know, so the truth is actually words do inspire. Words do help people get involved. Words do help members of Congress get into power so that they can be part of a coalition to deliver health care reform, to deliver a bold energy policy. Don't discount that power, because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if they are disaffected and cynical and fearful and told that it can't be done, then it doesn't. I'm running for president because I want to tell them, yes, we can. And that's why I think they're responding in such large numbers.
On top of this, Obama has here the perfect response to the "he's just talk" line of attack. Politics is almost literally all talk. You've got to be good in the cloak room, at the negotiating table, on the debate floor. What gives a politician the ultimate strength to push through change, though, is to convince the mass of voters to support his or her effort for something major like health care reform. "Don't discount that power, because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens." That says it all. That's a real political philosophy at its deepest.
Also, note the organic riff on "the fierce urgency of now": But in fact there have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better, and I think we're in one of those moments right now. Obama's slogans are the fruit of long reflection. They don't become fixed like a smile for the camera; they weave themselves into his language and ripen over time. He manages to shake off that broken record effect that encrusts almost every campaign.