Politics

Julián Castro: The Case for American Opportunity

Julián Castro’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention is the most inspiring speech I’ve ever heard from a politician. The reasons are mostly non-partisan, as they speak to a patriotic vision of the American dream – rooted in the nature of the country’s past, and extremely positive as to the country’s future:

America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build. The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won—these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.

And that’s the middle class—the engine of our economic growth. With hard work, everybody ought to be able to get there. And with hard work, everybody ought to be able to stay there—and go beyond. The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans. It’s a human dream, one that calls across oceans and borders. The dream is universal, but America makes it possible. And our investment in opportunity makes it a reality.

I hesitate to draw this parallel, but the resemblance to Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote address, which completely outshone the entire message of the Kerry campaign, is rather striking:

If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper—that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

The American story is an ever-changing one, and even in the 8 years between the speech which catapulted Barack Obama onto the national stage, we’ve seen our culture shift in how we view opportunity and privilege. Julián Castro isn’t merely a new Barack Obama – he’s the product of both some very old and some very new developments in American values.