No we can’t: The alternative Barack Obama speech

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 7 November 2012 in Diary
Simon Lancaster imagines what the US president would say if he was a pessimist

If there is anyone out there who still believes in the American dream, who still believe that America can change, who still believes that America can pick itself up, dust itself down and start all over again, tonight you have your answer: change has not come to America.

Change has not come to the camel and goat herders in the deserts and mountains of Pakistan who will spend the next four years dodging malfunctioning US drones.

Change has not come to the suspected terrorist in Guantánamo Bay who will remain in his bright orange suit, swinging his head back and forth, imagining he is the last man standing at an early 90s rave.

Change has not come to the 76-year-old security guard in the atrium at the White House who muttered to me as I came in from a press conference in the rose garden the other day, 'Y' know, Mr President: after four years I'm getting a little bit tired of your relentlessly sunny disposition.'

I know there are people who didn't want me as president. I know there are people who will not agree with every decision that I make. But I know that this country is stronger not weaker for this election experience, for we have been reminded of that fundamental truth which has endured whilst this country has gone through its darkest days – from the first pilgrims to the civil war - that we are not many but one; that this country never can be, never should be and never shall be the 'United' States of America.

We are divided. The pollsters know it. We know it. We are a nation of young and old, men and women, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not disabled, working and not working. We are a nation of red states and blue states, not the United States. Divided we stand, divided we fall. We know this to be true.

You know, in this election, there are many tales and many stories that will be told for many generations to come. But there is one story on my mind tonight: that is the story of John Edward Wallace.

John Edward Wallace was born just after Sgt Pepper and just before the pocket calculator: a time when there was no internet, no HBO, no Justin Bieber, no Kristin Stewart. 

John Edward Wallace is 44, he is married with two children and he hasn't had a day off in four years to 2 reasons: because of the size of his mortgage and because he is my driver.

Tonight, I think about John Edward Wallace and all that he has seen in his lifetime – the tears and tribulations, the doubt and despair, the laziness and loss – and how he witnessed the nation responding with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a generation: no we can't.

 John Edward Wallace was born in a decade when a president, his brother and a young preacher from Atlanta went to the American people with a message of peace and of hope and of love and of unity and the American people responded not through the ballot but with a bullet. No we can't.

He was there when the brave freedom fighters of South Vietnam got ensnared in the midst of a vicious war against fear and against tyranny, giving everything they had for a cause they'd been bribed to believe in and we fled in a helicopter, disappearing into the sunset, with a soundtrack composed by Hendrix. No we can't.

An office was burgled, a President lied, tapes were released and John Edward Wallace was there to witness the disintegration of a democracy. No we can't.

Elvis took a shit, Lennon took a shot and a tired old actor from California woke up, stood up and shouted 'Good morning America' and was rewarded with a bullet that had been meant for Jodie Foster. No we can't.

John Edward Wallace saw growth built on debt, manufacturing move to Asia, the internet, the iPhone and the wind up radio being invented not by Americans, but by Britons. No we can't.

Banks went bust. Fraudsters fled. And tens of millions of hard-working men and women put their hands in their pockets and dug deep to give $500, $600, whatever little they could afford so that bloated bankers could continue to receive multimillion dollar bonuses. No we can't.

America. We have lost so much. We've gone back so far. But tonight, let us ask ourselves, if our children should work as hard to earn as little as John Edward Wallace, then what will they say to us?

Will they respond with hope and optimism? Will they be blessed with a conviction that America can change and grow? Will they learn to love, share and prosper?

As I live and I breathe I know that my children's generation will respond like my generation and my father's generation before me: I know that they too will reject the cause of opportunity, deny the chance for peace, and reaffirm those fundamental truths – that if I'm alright, we are all alright; that as we live, we despair; and to those who tell us America can change, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the people. No we can't.

Thank you. God help you. And may God save the 'United' States of America.

Tags: American dream, Barack Obama, United States of America, US presidential elections 2012

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