"I think about the idea that maybe this country's become more divided, instead of more unified. And maybe our economic opportunities have shrunk, so only a few people are able to make it into the middle class, and we've got a lot of people who are just struggling day to day and not able to live out the American dream," he said.
"I think about us still being so dependent on foreign energy that our economy is grinding to a halt and our planet, because we didn't adjust from fossil fuels, has gone up two or three degrees and the polar ice caps have melted and the oceans have gone up and suddenly our ways of life have changed and America is no longer what it could be and once was," Obama said. "I say to myself, 'I don't want that future for my children.' "
The column implies that the part where Obama says "America is no longer what it could be and once was" is taken out of context because it was interpreted to mean Obama was putting down America. "But Obama brought the crowd to its feet when he said he wants a better, kinder, more prosperous, more tolerant America," the column retorts. Leave it to columnist George Will to put Obama's comment into perspective by reminding his readers of events in Springfield, Illinois 100 years ago where Obama launched his campaign last year:
On the night of Aug. 13, Mabel Hallam, a pretty young white woman whose husband Earl was working the night shift as a streetcar conductor, retired early. Around 11:30 p.m. she was awakened by a man's weight on her. "Why, Earl," she said, "what is wrong with you?" The man, who was not Earl and was black, said, "I am drunk." He raped her and fled. So she said.
"Negro's Heinous Crime" and "Dragged From Her Bed and Outraged by Negro" were the next day's headlines. As Jim Rasenberger reconstructs events in his fine book "America 1908," police plucked black men from the streets of Hallam's neighborhood until she identified one, George Richardson, as her assailant. By 5 p.m. the jail was surrounded by a mob of at least 4,000 baying for blood. Eighty-nine blacks would be lynched in America in 1908.
Springfield's sheriff enlisted a leading citizen -- owner of the city's largest restaurant, and of a fast automobile -- to spirit Richardson and another black man also accused of rape out of town. This further inflamed the mob, which destroyed the restaurant -- a white patron was killed by a stray bullet -- piled its furnishings on the owner's overturned automobile, and burned the pile. For the next six hours the rioters, fueled by liquor looted from the restaurant, sacked two black neighborhoods, setting fires and blocking fire wagons and cutting their hoses. Forty black homes were destroyed, as were 21 black and several Jewish businesses. Thousands of Springfield's blacks fled into the countryside; some never returned.
After beating an elderly black man and a paralyzed black man, at 2 a.m. the mob seized a 56-year-old black barber from his home, beat him unconscious, hanged him from a tree and mutilated his body. Souvenir hunters carved away bits of the tree, which was entirely gone by the end of the day.
The next night a mob of 500 brought a rope and proceeded to the home of a prominent and wealthy 84-year-old black man who, standing in front of his house, inquired, "Good evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you?" He was beaten, slashed with a razor, hanged from a tree too supple to bear his weight. He was alive when troops from the state militia reached him. He died that night.
Reflecting on this horrible event in Springfield a century ago, Will offers this sobering rejoinder to Obama's suggestion that America is no longer what it once was. Will writes, "So, remember Springfield. The siege of the jail, the rioting, the lynching and mutilating all occurred within walking distance of where, in 2007, Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy. Whatever you think of his apotheosis, it illustrates history's essential promise, which is not serenity -- that progress is inevitable -- but possibility, which is enough: Things have not always been as they are." However divided Obama wants to make you think our country is, the reality is that our country has never been more united, although there is always room for progress. Thanks for reminding us of that, George Will.