My Overwhelming Conviction about Pres. Obama's DNC Speech
I disagreed with many people who were immediately disappointed with Pres. Obama's acceptance speech before the Democratic National Convention Thursday night. I loved it. I thought it was straightforward and honest and at times uplifting. It was uplifting enough that it lifted me up from my couch and over to my computer where I donated another $500 to the Obama campaign.
But the line of the speech wasn't an uplifting one—except in the sense that it was beautiful. It wasn't even Obama's. It came from Abraham Lincoln.
Here's what Pres. Obama said:
While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'
God, that's beautiful. You don't even have to believe in God to know the feeling. We've all felt it. We can only imagine how a president in a time of crisis must feel it.
The quote comes from Noah Brooks writing in Harper's Weekly three months after Lincoln's assassination. Brooks was a journalist for the Sacramento Union, and, particularly because he didn't indicate the circumstances under which Lincoln said the line, some doubt whether Lincoln said it at all. If he didn't then Brooks is less hack than great writer, because it's a great line worthy of repeating.
It's one of our most fundamental and human images, isn't it? Man on his knees in times of crisis and despair. As soon as Pres. Obama said it, as soon as I began to play it over in my mind, I thought of two similar lines, one humorous, one spiritual.
This is the humorous version. It's from Saul Bellow's “Herzog”:
On the knees of your soul? Might as well be useful. Scrub the floor.
The other, more spiritual line, comes from U2's “Mysterious Ways”:
To touch is to heal - to hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
We are driven down by the weight of the world; but in accepting our failings we are raised up. It's the low place we go to find hope.
Pres. Obama greeting tourists at the Lincoln Memorial in 2011. White House Photo.