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Obama didn't run from hope, but doubled down on it

COMMENTARYA common wisdom has already emerged about President Obama's convention speech on Thursday: It was a workhorse. A policy talk.
Melissa Harris-Perry
by Melissa Harris-Perry


A common wisdom has already emerged about President Obama's convention speech on Thursday: It was a workhorse. A policy talk. Good, solid, necessary, but also less soaring, ambitious and inspirational than we have come to expect.

I disagree.

Primed by the years I've spent as a seminary student, I heard President Obama's speech as a recitation of the familiar Bibilical chapter Romans 8. Even if you are not from a Christian tradition, you may have heard of Romans 8. If you are part of the tradition, I know you'll recognize it immediately.

Romans is the Apostle Paul's definitive letter. Written on the brink of a great journey, it addresses divisions of identity within the nascent church. It is, more than anything else, a letter of encouragement, and Chapter 8 is the most encouraging of all. Its optimism is built on three key insights.

The first: Remember that the problems of the moment are transitory, not permanent. "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

Second, getting through the tough times requires patience, perseverance, and hope. Paul reminds us that hope is not about what you see at this moment, but what you believe to be possible. "Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?"

Finally, no matter how bad things are in the present moment, holding tight to faith and to unflagging hope ensures that "we are more than conquerors" in the long run.

On Thursday, President Obama followed a similar argument. He acknowledged the continuing problems we face as a nation, but he encouraged Americans to believe in our history, in one another, and in the powerful but difficult work of self-government. Rather than running from hope, he doubled down on it:

America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder—but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer—but we travel it together. We don't turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

President Obama was not demanding or assuming that voters believe that the Bible is an inspired, sacred text. He was asking voters to draw encouragement from its lessons. Hope is not vain, silly, or misguided. It is powerful. It keeps our eyes fixed on a brighter horizon. Once we can see the hopeful future, we must do the work of walking forward together to achieve it.