Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)
NHDP's 2006 Election Celebration
Center of New Hampshire Radisson
Manchester, NH
December 10, 2006

Over 1,500 tickets were sold and over 150 media were credentialed to cover this event, the second stop on Obama's first trip to New Hampshire.  In a press conference before his speech Obama sought to explain his appeal.  "I think what's going on is that people are very hungry for something new," he said.  "I think they are interested in being called to be part of something larger than the kind of small, petty, slash and burn politics that we've been seeing over the last several years.  And to some degree I think I'm a stand in for that desire on the part of the country," Obama stated [transcript].  Although there were seats for the elderly and disabled, space was such that most of the audience had to stand throughout this speech.  They first heard a long series of speeches from New Hampshire Democratic leaders.  Gov. John Lynch joked that, "We originally scheduled the Rolling Stones for this party, but we canceled them when we realized Sen. Obama would sell more tickets."  He also thanked Obama for his commitment to the New Hampshire primary.  Obama, still undecided about a presidential run but sounding more and more like a candidate, spoke for about 30 minutes, explaining what he means by the "audacity of hope" and calling for a "commonsense, pragmatic, non ideological agenda."

I am fired up.  New Hampshire I'm all fired up being here.  First of all I want to thank whoever organized the weather for today.  I know this is a typical December in New Hampshire: 40 degrees, sunny.  I do notice that the weather's been better since November 7th up here in New Hampshire.  I don't know if there's any correlation.

Let me begin by thanking all the wonderful officials who are up here starting with your outstanding governor John Lynch.  He has, he has--I have to tell you that on the flight over from Chicago there was a guy sitting next to me and all he wanted to talk about was how great your governor was.  And everywhere I've gone since that time throughout my travels people tell me here's somebody who exemplifies the kind of politics that we want to see, somebody who's about solving problems and commonsense, and even when he disagrees with people does so in an agreeable manner, and I think that you have become, John, I think a model for leadership across the country and we really appreciate your work, so--  And now I suspect that's partly as a consequence of him choosing wisely in marriage.  The governor and I share the basic theory about marriage that we're trying to improve our gene pool and so we select somebody superior to us and hope it rubs off on our kids.  Absolutely.

To your outstanding new congressman and woman, Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, they are going to do outstanding work.  And we spoke a little bit both before and after the campaign, and it was a little bit under the radar screen; you took some folks by surprise, but not me because I had seen the work that they were doing and I was confident that they were going to prevail, and we are so proud of them.  They are going to be outstanding in the next Congress.  So congratulations.

To Terie [House Speaker Terie Norelli] and Sylvia [Senate President Sylvia Larsen] I know you guys are fired up.  And I saw them behind this door; they were scheming already on all sorts of bills that they are going to be passing together.  It is wonderful, by the way, to see the strong tradition of women leadership at the highest levels of politics in this state.  [inaud.] New Hampshire and we're proud of you for that.

To all the member of--newly elected members of the Executive Council, you guys are going to do outstanding work I am certain.

And most of all to Kathy Sullivan [NHDP chair], who I am please to say, I talked to some Democratic operatives and they said you know everybody basically just does what Kathy tells us to do.  And so just watching the respect and regard that people have for your leadership Kathy is outstanding.  Congratulations for your great work.

The, now, listen, I have to confess that there's been a little bit of fuss about me lately.  And I have been a little suspicious of it.  Because I actually come from a background of community organizing and grassroots organizing and mobilization and empowerment.  And so a lot of reporters of late have been asking me, well why are you coming to New Hampshire, and what does this mean, and you've got big crowds and does this definitely mean you're jumping in and this and that and the other.  And what I told them during a press event earlier here today, and what I want to repeat before all of you.  Obviously it's flattering to get a lot of attention, although I must say it's baffling, particularly to my wife and, and, but you know I actually think that the reason that I'm getting so much attention right now has less to do with me and more to do with you.

I think to some degree I've become a shorthand or a symbol or a stand-in, for now, of a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represented.  And it's a spirit that says we are looking for something different.  We want something new.  And it's a spirit that the governor accurately described, a spirit that says that we are going to re-engage in our democracy in a way that we haven't done for some time, that we are going to take hold of our collective lives together and reassert our values and our ideals on our politics.

And that doesn't depend on one person, that doesn't depend on me or the governor or a congressman or a speaker.  It depends on you.  There's a wonderful saying by Justice Louis Brandeis once, that the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen, and that I think more than anything is what the election here in New Hampshire represented on November 7th.  And that is the tradition of New Hampshire, not just in presidential primaries but each and every day, the idea that all of us have a stake in this government, all of us have responsibilities, all of us have to step up to the plate, and as a consequence of everybody in New Hampshire doing just that we had an outstanding election here in New Hampshire.  So I'm here to get some tips from you.  I'm here to soak up some of that energy.  I'm here to bask in the glow of the great work that you've done.  And I want you guys to remember that.  You're the story, not me.

Now that's hard to understand because that's not the politics that we've been seeing of late.  In fact I was doing a book signing down in Portsmouth and the title of the book that I just wrote is called "The Audacity of Hope."  And some people have asked me about the title; where'd I get it from.  And some people recall that I actually used the phrase in my convention speech down in Boston in 2004.

But I'm here to confess, there were some confessions earlier, I'm here to confess before all the press that I actually stole the line from my pastor, Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. of Trinity Unity Church of Christ on the South side of Chicago.  I had just gotten out of college and like most 21 year olds I wasn't exactly sure of what I wanted to do with my life, but one thing I knew I wanted to do was somehow be involved in rebuilding and renewing America, and particularly in low income areas, particularly in urban areas.  I wanted to see how could I get involved at a grassroots level.  And so I wrote to every do-good organization I could think of and finally a group of churches on the South side of Chicago hired me because I had--they were grappling with steel plants that had closed all throughout the region.  Tens of thousands of people had been laid off.  Not that different from some of the stuff that's happened here in New Hampshire.  And in many areas commercial strips had deteriorated, homes had been foreclosed and boarded up, unemployment was up, kids were getting discouraged.  They were dropping out of school; some were resorting to crime and drugs.

And so these churches had gathered together to see if they could organize to help rebuild the community and they didn't have a lot of money so they hired me for the grand sum of $12,000 a year plus car expenses.  And so I drove out to Chicago--didn't know a single person out there, and started working with these churches to rebuild and set up job training programs for the unemployed and after-school programs for youth.

And everywhere I went I'd always get puzzled looks and questions from the people I was working with.  First question: where'd you get this funny name, Barack Obama?  Although they'd mispronounce it and they'd call me Alabama or they would call me Yo Mama, and I'd explain no it's Obama--my father was from Kenya, and my mother was from Kansas which is where I got my accent from.  And then they'd ask me, you know you've got this fancy college education why--you seem like a nice enough guy, why would you want to be involved in community organizing.  It doesn't pay much and probably you have to work long hard hours and nobody appreciates you.

So they were a little skeptical about what I was doing and then they asked me, well what church do you belong to.  And at the time I didn't belong to a church and so I thought to myself, if I'm going to work with churches, maybe I start going to church.  So I walked in one day, into this church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and the pastor was there and the title of his sermon was "The Audacity of Hope," and his premise was very simple.

He said the easiest thing in the world to do is to be cynical.  You have every good reason not to expect much.  You open up the newspapers, you look on television and what do you see, you see violence and strife and corruption and injustice, war and poverty, famine.  So it's easy to get discouraged.  It's easy to, at some point, say to yourself that is the world as it is and there's not much you can do about it.  And in fact maybe your best strategy is to withdraw as much as possible and draw a circle around yourself and protect yourself, make as much money as you can, look after your children, make sure they're taken care of, and maybe you might tend to your immediate neighbors or the folks that you work with.  But generally don't anticipate that you can have much say over the course of the world.  It's too difficult.  It'll break your heart.

He said what's hard, what demands courage, what's risky, what's truly audacious is to hope, to believe that somehow that the world as it is is not the world as it has to be.  That in fact through the application of will and imagination you can make the world anew.  And I loved that idea.

I loved it for myself because it implied that to be hopeful is not to be ignorant of problems; it's not to ignore poverty; it's not to ignore inequality, it's not to ignore injustice.  It's to look at those things squarely in the face and still believe that we can make a difference, to still insist that something else is possible.  So I loved it as a personal motto.  But what I also loved was the fact that the phrase described I think an essential part of the American character, because if you think about how this country was built, it's always been built on that risk taking, that audacity to hope.

Starting with thirteen rag-tag colonies who looked around and said you know what, we're going to start our own government, we're going to overthrow the tyranny of the greatest empire in the world, and not only that but we're going to try a form of government that's never been tried before, that had its roots in town hall meetings up in New England.  We're going to say that this government's going to be off and by and for the people.  Hasn't been attempted, but we're going to make it happen.  And there were people who said it can't be done.  And yet it was.

And then after having crafted the founding charter, after drafting the Constitution, somebody noticed, you know this document is stained by slavery.  And there were those at the time who said well that's the way it is.  That was the price of union.  The Southern economy is based on this peculiar institution.  Not much we can do about it.  And yet there were abolitionists and pastors and lay people and agitators and troublemakers who said, well we don't believe that.  We think we can create a different kind of country.  We think we can found this country on a different set of principles.   We think we can live up to that Declaration of Independence that says all men are created equal.  And so they started stirring things up and agitating and mobilizing, and a Civil War was fought and then they had to march some more and work some more but at some point that union was perfected.

And then somebody noticed well women can't vote, and in fact I'm sure it was a woman.  She said well we're smarter than men.  She said I mean we know our husbands.  They got nothing on us.  So they started agitating and mobilizing and stirring up trouble and believing that they should be full partners in this process of building America and it happened.

And across--and then there were a whole bunch of folks in other countries.  They started looking across distant shores and they said you know we know what we have here, but across the way there in America something's happening and maybe if we go there the lives of our children and our grand children and our great grandchildren will be a little richer, a little more promising.  Maybe it's worth it to take that risk.  And they took it.

At each and every juncture of our history there's been somebody who said we can do better.  There's been somebody who has been unwilling to settle for equality for the few, for opportunity for some, for freedom for a handful, and have said we think that we can create a country where everybody's got a shot, where every child can dream, where everybody can apply themselves and work hard and take responsibility and arrive at the American Dream.

And I think what's been happening over these last several months is people have realized that that kind of spirit has been lost over the last decade.  That it's not that ordinary people have forgotten how to dream big dreams, they just think that their leadership has forgotten how.  It's not that--they still imagine America of limitless possibilities, but they don't have a sense that those in charge are still thinking in those terms.  And so what happened in this election, not just here in New Hampshire but all across the country is that voters decided to start paying attention.  They looked up and they said, we're in a serious mood and we're in a sober mood and we want to know how can we rekindle that spirit.

Because they look at the health care situation.  They say how can it be that we Americans spend more money than any nation on Earth and yet we still have 46 million uninsured and ordinary families are seeing their co-payments and their deductibles and their premiums going up.  And even as we spend more, the quality of our care goes down.  And people say to themselves, well surely improving our health care system, that's not a Democratic or a Republican agenda, that's a commonsense agenda.

Why wouldn't we apply electronic billing or the use of new technologies for medical records to reduce costs and improve quality?  Why wouldn't we do something like that?  Why wouldn't we invest in preventive care for our young people so we can treat a child with asthma at home with an inhalator instead of treating her at the emergency room that's going to cost us so much more?  Why wouldn't we deal with providing basic care to people with chronic diseases so that they can manage them?  Why would we have a system that reimburses somebody who's diabetic for an amputation, but not for the drugs that they need to keep them healthy and whole?  Why--we can do that.  That's within our capacity.  The problem is not technical.  The problem is a problem of political will.

They take a look at energy and they say to themselves, now let me get this straight.  There were some who said that energy would not be an issue before the election because gas prices were going down.  Of course folks out in the hinterlands, they said you know funny thing happens, gas prices go down before the election; they have a tendency maybe right after the election, they might go right back up.  But it went beyond just pocketbook issues.

People understood why would we want to hold our economy hostage to the spot oil market?  Why would we want to send $800 million a day to some of the most hostile nations on Earth?  Why would we want to fund both sides of the war on terrorism?  Why would we want to do that?  And they said although we enjoy 40 degree sunny weather in December in New Hampshire, and we understand there are a couple of holdouts in the White House, you know this climate change thing doesn't sound to good to us.  The other 10,000 scientists seem to be on to something here.  Maybe we should do something about it.  And so.  Absolutely.

And so why wouldn't we harness the power of the sun and the wind and why wouldn't we have American farmers, the best farmers on Earth--why wouldn't we allow them to grow the crops that we can convert into fuels that we put into cars that Americans build, creating jobs and industry and making our future more secure?  There's no reason why we can't do those things.  We can do it.

And then people start looking--they notice what's going on overseas, and they say we're not afraid to compete, but as globalization advances and corporations' bottom lines know no borders, and our young people are competing against children not just in California or Florida or Illinois, they're competing against folks in Calcutta or Beijing.

At that point parents start staying why aren't we doing everything we can to prepare our young people, making them adept at math and science so that they can get the jobs of the future and be the innovators of the future?  Why wouldn't we invest in early childhood education to bring every child up to par?  Why wouldn't we start paying our teachers more and help develop training for them, so we recruit the best and brightest for the classroom?  Why on Earth would we start increasing the cost of student loans at the precise time where we know that our young people are going to be needing a college education more than ever?

We can do better that that.  That's not a Democratic agenda or a Republican agenda, that's an American agenda.  We can do those things.  We can do those things.

They want to know, they want to know, why can't we have a government that reflects the values of the voters?  Why should we be reading about scandal and chicanery and nonsense every day?  Why can't we expect maybe not perfection, but that people are going to be representing their voters and not the special interests and that they're not taking free meals and they're not getting a bunch of bargains and why can't they operate the way John Lynch operates and the way Carol and Paul are going to operate?  Clean government's not all that tough; that's something we can come together on.  And we understand by the way that no party has a monopoly on virtue and that all of us have to be attentive to ethics.

And then most of all people looked at Iraq and they said we are all patriots here; there's not a single person in this auditorium that would not willingly fight on behalf of the safety and security of this nation, who wouldn't pick up arms if it was required to protect our homeland.  But we also understand that the might of our military has to be matched by the strength of our diplomacy and the thoughtfulness with which we apply our national security, and that we have to be honest with the American people if we're calling them to sacrifice and that we can't just as an ideological exercise spend billions of dollars that could have been spent right here in New Hampshire and all across the country in schools and hospitals and roads and bridges and technology and broad band and innovation.

And more importantly we can't waste our most precious resource, our young men and women, who fight so courageously, unless we know that it's going to actually, that their sacrifice will have been worth it, that it will make us more secure.

You know I have town hall meetings sometimes in Illinois, but also in Washington with Dick Durbin, and I remember the other day a young man came in; he was about 25, 26, had been back from Iraq for a year, had been in a coma for six months.  He came with his wife.  An explosion had gone off and had shattered his face.  He had been blinded in both eyes; had a gash down his forehead.  His arm was no longer functioning.  He was in rehabilitation.  He had two young daughters just like I do, and he described the services that the Veterans [Administration?] had provided to him, and his wife talked about the adjustment that his daughters, their daughters were making in terms of daddy's new circumstances.  And I looked not at him, but I looked at his wife who loved him so much.  And you thought about their lives going forward.

And it reminds us that politics is not a sport and the debates that we have in Washington are not about who's up or down, they're not about personal attacks, they're not about tactical advantage, they're not about making a few folks an easy buck.  They're about  who we are as a people and what we believe in and what we're willing to do to make sure that we have the kind of country that our children deserve.  And I think that's what people woke up to in this last election.  And it offers us the chance to lead.  It offers us Democrats the opportunity to lead.  People are hungry and they are waiting and the question is are we going to be able to deliver over the next two years and then in the years beyond?

And that's the obligation that Paul and Carol are going to have to meet and that's the obligation that the governor and the new Speaker and the President of the Senate are going to have to meet and that's my obligation, is to make sure that I'm willing to partner with the American people on the commonsense, pragmatic, non ideological agenda that they're hungry for to meet the challenges that we face.

But here's the good news; here's the good news.  These challenges can be met.  There is no reason why we can't create a system where everybody has decent health care.  There is no reason why we can't have energy independence in this country.  There is no reason why we can't educate our children to compete, because American workers work harder than anybody.  They just have to be given the tools in order to compete and they will compete each and every single time.  There is no reason why we can't craft a national security strategy that is tough and smart, because what we've seen is tough and dumb or tough talk and dumb action.  There is no reason why we can't do it.

And let me repeat, let me repeat, if we have done those things, if we have taken the sensible actions that the American people are calling for then it will not just be a Democratic agenda.  We are proud to be Democrats but we're prouder to be Americans.  It will be an American agenda, and that's what people are longing for.

And so let me just close by saying this.  The ingredient that were going to need to accomplish this is imagination and hard work, a sense of responsibility, a sense of sacrifice, ultimately a sense of hope.  Ultimately it is that spirit upon which this country is based, upon which almost all your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents came here, it is that spirit upon which these things will be accomplished.

And if we do that then I am absolutely confident that we will live up to the traditions that have made this country great.  If we do this then I am absolutely positive that the American people are going to respond.  And as long as there is a child out there who does not have responsibility then we have to be ready to respond.  As long as there is a senior citizen out there who is not being cared for we have to be ready to respond.  I am telling you New Hampshire, America is ready to turn the page.  America is ready for a new set of challenges.  This is our time, a new generation that is preparing to lead.  You are part of that and I am grateful to be a partner with you on that  New Hampshire.  Thank you very much.  Let's go make it happen.

# # #