It took just a few sentences in his introductory remarks at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 to set the then Illinois Senator Barack Obama on the path to the US presidency and, by a long shot, made possible his Kenyan homecoming this weekend.
The convention, which traditionally marks the end of the Democratic Party primaries, was held from July 26 to 29 at the FleetCenter (since renamed TD Garden) in Boston and affirmed the candidature of nominated Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and North Carolina Senator John Edwards for president and vice-president respectively.
The climax was on July 27 and one-term Senator Obama, then little known globally, was given the duty of delivering the keynote address meant to rally the entire Democratic Party behind its candidate.
Fully aware he was relatively unknown beyond US borders, Obama got his speech going with a self-introduction that not only stirred the American voters and millions across the globe but also colourfully painted the picture of Kenya as part of his heritage.
“Let’s face it. My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya …”
With his audience in rapt attention, Obama then turned on his oratorical prowess and deftly wove his story into that of the American fabric.
“My parents shared not only an impossible love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation (America).
“I stand here knowing my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all those who came before me and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
By the time he was done, Obama had carved a niche for himself not only within the Democratic Party but the entire US politics.
Though he followed this up with a trip to Kenya in 2006 and authored two best-selling books that expounded on his story, his speech at the 2004 convention marked a turning point in his political career.
He may not have been the party’s flag bearer in that year’s polls, which the Republican duo of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney went on to win, but many democrats at the convention and across the US had no doubt where their cards lay in terms of the party’s future presidential candidate. Obama’s speech, which is available on YouTube, has aptly been described by commentators and analysts as the “Speech that made Obama President”.
He may not be in the league of great orators of old such as Sir Winston Churchill, the two-time British premier (1940-45 and 1951-55), who earned himself the tag “The Man of Words”. However, it is not in doubt when he is in his element, addressing a matter close to his heart, President Obama leaves many hungering for more by the time he steps off the podium.
During his campaigns for the two presidential terms, Obama easily moved his audience to tears with his artful delivery on touchy issues.
Journalists in his campaigns would be torn between following his punchy lines and observing the charged crowd, eager to go to the nearest poll booth after he’s done speaking to cast him their votes.
His ability to change campaign issues from being just electoral matters to issues of deep personal choice, many a time, left his rivals floundering in his wake.
In one of the 2012 presidential election rallies covered by this reporter in Ohio – a battleground state in any US election – Obama reminded US voters of the immense powers they held in their hands. This was not only in deciding who calls the shots in Washington but maintaining the image of America as the world’s number one democracy.
“After all the months of campaigns, the rallies, the millions of dollars of ads, it all comes down to you. It is out of my hands now; it’s in yours, all of it depends on what you do.”
Then he turned the spotlight on the voters, making some glow with pride at their onerous national duty.
“The single most powerful force in this democracy is you. Moving this country forward begins with you.”