His speech here over the weekend may be the best speech hes ever given.
His speech here over the weekend may be the best speech he's ever given. Selma, Alabama/Shutterstock


The full text of the speech is here. It's an amazing speech—it may be the best speech Obama has ever given, a speech infused with both a profound love of country and a willingness to look squarely at our country's failings and shortcomings.

I want to draw attention to one passage:

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was 30 years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress—our progress—would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

The right-wing myth is this: Progress is impossible. It's too risky—it's always too risky. According to conservatives, the country and the American family are too fragile to allow women to vote, to end segregation, to treat LGBT people as equals. We are the greatest country on earth, the most powerful country on earth, a country uniquely blessed by God... but somehow we are "always one public library book away from total collapse." The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women's movement, the LGBT movement—whatever the movement, social conservatives are always running in circles with their hair on fire predicting total collapse. And they're always wrong. Social conservatives have predicted collapse every time there was a demand for social justice, and they were always wrong. We ended segregation (which did not end racism) and the country did not collapse. The vote was granted to women (which did not end sexism) and the family did not collapse. Same-sex marriage came to 37 states (which did not end homophobia) and people didn't start marrying their dogs.

The left wing has a corresponding myth.

The left-wing myth is this: There has been no progress, nothing has changed, the country is as racist, sexist, and homophobic as it ever was.

Not true.

Racism is still a problem, sexism is still a problem, and homophobia is still a problem—and those aren't our only problems. But our society isn't just arguably less racist, less sexist, and less homophobic today than it was 50 years ago, it's obviously less racist, sexist, and homophobic. I think we lefties dismiss the progress we've made—I think we downplay it—because we have such a long way to go and we don't want people to be complacent. Ferguson, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the wage gap, attacks on access to abortion and contraception, anti-queer violence (particularly anti-trans violence) all argue against complacency. But to deny the "hard-won progress" we have made doesn't just "rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better," as President Obama said in Selma on Saturday. It makes the work before us more difficult.

When people demand change—when people demand progress—and social conservatives argue that the country is too fragile, that the family is too vulnerable, that progress will lead to total collapse, our response should be this: "You said the exact same thing about ending segregation. You said the exact same thing about letting women vote. You said the exact same thing about letting gay people marry—and you were wrong. Each and every time. Wrong. We've made tremendous progress on those and other issues, and the country did not collapse. You were wrong then, you're wrong now."

Want to make change? Want to make progress? Don't deny the progress we've already made. Celebrate it and draw attention to it, like the president did this weekend in Selma. Refusing to do so does "a disservice to the cause of justice."