In late July 1968, against the beautiful backdrop of Skipper’s Cottage at Gurney’s Inn in Montauk, Long Island, Richard M. Nixon worked on the acceptance speech he would soon be delivering to the Republican National Convention in Miami. Working on yellow legal pads, as was his custom, he experimented with words and ideas. He was looking for something beyond the routine campaign speech he had been giving along the primary trail. Somewhere during this incubatory phase, he decided to wax a bit sentimental and do something not usually done with major political addresses; he would talk a little about his journey. This was a break from tradition.
FDR had not talked in his speeches about his polio, nor had John Kennedy ever discussed descending from Irish immigrants. LBJ didn’t reminisce about his school teaching days in Texas. In fact, Dwight D. Eisenhower didn’t even talk about World War II. But when Mr. Nixon addressed the party faithful – and the nation at large via television - at 11:00 p.m. on August 8, 1968, he ended what had already been a very good speech with a personal touch:
“I see another child tonight. He hears the train go by at night and he dreams of far away places where he'd like to go. It seems like an impossible dream. But he is helped on his journey through life. A father who had to go to work before he finished the sixth grade, sacrificed everything he had so that his sons could go to college. A gentle, Quaker mother, with a passionate concern for peace, quietly wept when he went to war but she understood why he had to go.
A great teacher, a remarkable football coach, an inspirational minister encouraged him on his way. A courageous wife and loyal children stood by him in victory and also defeat.
And in his chosen profession of politics, first there were scores, then hundreds, then thousands, and finally millions worked for his success. And tonight he stands before you -- nominated for President of the United States of America.
You can see why I believe so deeply in the American Dream.”
So when Barack Obama uses his stadium moment next week to tell us about humble origins and his unlikely path to the presidency, he is walking down a road paved by our thirty-seventh president. In fact, both candidates will do so – and we are better for it because we get to know more about the men themselves.