The first moment was at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when a little-known State Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama was catapulted to national prominence through the sheer force of his eloquence.
The second moment was at the Rally to Restore Sanity yesterday, when a wisecracking comedian named Jon Stewart decided to become serious for thirteen minutes so that a quarter-million people could hear what he thought mattered most about today's political life.
I have read the transcripts of and listened to both speeches, and what strikes me most about them is that - despite the disparate backgrounds of their orators and the contexts in which they were delivered - their central theme was identical.
Here is what Obama said in 2004:
The image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun-house mirror — and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin and one eyeball. So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable: Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution and racists and homophones who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day.
The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do, often something they do not want to do. But they do it, impossible things every day that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make. Look, look on the screen. This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high, he’s going to work. There’s another car, a woman with two small kids can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging — I don’t even know if you can see it — the lady’s in the NRA and loves Oprah. There’s another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear, often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers. And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath the mighty river, carved by people, who I’m sure, by the way, had their differences. And they do it, concession by concession. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Uh, well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go. And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.
There were plenty of differences between the two speeches, as evidenced even by these excerpts: Obama was more concise and more articulate, Stewart was funnier and more extemporaneous Yet both of them said the same thing:
E pluribus unum.
Out of many... one.
In short, while Glenn Beck may have felt that he was putting himself in the shoes of Martin Luther King by putting his speech on the same day as that of the great civil rights leader, Barack Obama and Jon Stewart understood how to actually put themselves in the steps of that American hero - by repeating, at a time when our nation most needs it, his basic message.
When this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
What's more, you can understand why I say, to all of my friends who attended Jon Stewart's rally - Brian Davis, Sean Davis, Adam Hollingsworth, Tommy Hollingsworth, Jennifer Hay, Christina Cruz, and Ryan Neel - that I hope you are savoring, in your own minds, the fact that you will always be able to tell your children and grandchildren... I WAS THERE!
You didn't just participate in history; you participated in one of the noblest exercises which can occur in a nation's history.