I'll lay a dollar it was that he Had a Dream.
Schoolchildren across the nation and around the world memorize this part of his famous Lincoln Memorial speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."Schoolchildren memorize this part of speech, and sometimes, they act it out its imagery together, children of different races and religions and ethnicities standing together in their integrated classroom, holding hands.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
And what was the first thing you learned about John F. Kennedy, besides the fact of his assassination? Well, it may have been the inauguration speech where he said this:
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.
and of course, this:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.
Of course, both of these men worked very hard, when they weren't speaking, to bring about serious social change. Both of these men led rich, interesting and sometimes controversial personal lives. Both of these men had help, lots of help, from other men and women who thought and planned and worked and fought to make the visions of these two leaders succeed.
But that's not what our teachers teach us about, first, in school.
Why do we learn about the words before we learn about the actions?
Because these words are powerful. They are more than idle speech. These words illuminate a vision.
The words embody the vision.
The vision precedes the action. The vision motivates the action. The vision and the action and the words that help to power both are inextricably intertwined.
These words have a power that allows them to both mirror and transcend their historical context. If these words were found, a thousand years from now, written on a scrap of stone, after our society had collapsed and our history had been forgotten, and someone somewhere in such an imaginary future understood how to read them, these words would still have the power to move.
A lot of people have compared Senator Barack Obama to JFK and Dr. King because he seems to possess a similar ability to inspire and motivate people with his words.
A lot of other people argue that Barack Obama is not entitled to these great men's mantles, because he has not yet proven to us that his actions will match his words.
And I think that second group of people are right about one thing: Barack Obama has not yet proven himself to be an epic leader. We do not yet have proof that his actions will speak even louder than his words.
But I also think we should not discount the power of his inspirational words.
The vision precedes the action.
We are a nation discouraged and disheartened by economic uncertainty, natural disaster and war. We are a nation that has seemed all too often in recent history bitterly divided over how to solve the problems we face as a people.
We are a nation desperately in need of a new vision.
The words embody the vision. The vision precedes the action. The action needs the words.
So I say, if Barack Obama's words inspire people to come together across racial and class lines and even across party divides, if those words inspire people who have never voted in their lives to come out and participate in the political process-- if those words make some people who have lost all hope in their government begin to feel hope again-- then those words are not empty promises. Those words are already accomplishing the most important part of what they have to do.
Those words are moving people. Together.
And if his words can do that in a primary, I have hope his words can also do that in a presidency.
I have hope.