Barack Obama: mediator to a divided nation

In the days after the towers fell on September 11, 2001, Americans everywhere came together to honor the dead and demand justice. The world stood beside us, sharing our shock and grief.

That unity proved short-lived. “You’re either with us or against us” became U.S. foreign policy, alienating long-time allies. Pursuit of war against Iraq tore Americans apart as the U.S. divided into two opposing camps, red state from blue. Earlier this year, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh mocked Republican presidential hopeful John McCain for his efforts to reach across the political aisle, asking, “”When did the measure of conservatism, when did the measure of success, when did the measure of progress, when did it become reaching out to Democrats?”

Last night, in an electrifying speech, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic party’s nomination for president.

What struck my ear, as a mediator, were his words on the importance of setting aside our differences to address the tough issues America faces — economy, jobs, health care, social issues, civil liberties, national security:

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

He invited Americans to focus on the future and our shared interests rather than on the positions that have riven us, acknowledging the hard work ahead:

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices. And Democrats, as well as Republicans, will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past, for part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

The — the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.

But this, too, is part of America’s promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

It’s about time.

Read the full transcript of Obama’s acceptance speech.

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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