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What Obama's 'race Speech' Does Say
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MARCH 18, 2008
BY TNR STAFF
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I don't know if it will settle the Wright issue -- I suspect not -- but that's a damn fine speech.
March 18, 2008 at 10:58am
Perfect. Now we'll see if American can live up to this challenge.
- Andrew Davis
March 18, 2008 at 11:20am
Beautiful. If that isn't enough to let this man run for president on his own merits, to hell with it.
March 18, 2008 at 11:23am
Disappointing. First, it's WAY too long. IT doesn't even get to the point-- yes, I was aware of Wright's filth, yes, I categorically reject it-- until a few thousand words have been spilled.
Second, he shifts almost automatically into a, shall we say, faith-based argument, about the power of love, forgiveness, and faith. Fine, if you're seeking the office of Pontifex Maximus. The big question this speech leaves unaddressed is whether Obama can shed this distraction and focus on and appoint outstanding people who are focused on turning around the economy, the dollar, the war in Afghanistan, NATO etc.
Third, this strikes me as more than a little slippery:
"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."
We all love dear ol' grannie, and no one expects Obama or Ron Paul or Mitt Romney or whoever to turn on Mama, but Wright ain't family. At least he doesnt fit my definition of family.
Actually, if Wright is as close to Obama's heart as any of his relatives, then Obama has not only not put a stake through this issue, he's given new legs to it. Bad news for Obama's candidacy.
Superdelegates, it's not too late for Biden.
Marty, please call Al Gore.
March 18, 2008 at 11:24am
Magnificent! I hope his delivery is a eloquent as the written words.
March 18, 2008 at 11:32am
Great speech. True leadership. He addressed painful issues head on.
I think he nailed it. But this was kind of an easy one for Obama, as it goes right to the heart of his message about unity and moving beyond the arbitrary divisions of the past. The far reaches of the right wing will continue to snipe, but I think the vast majority of Americans will now be discussing the content and spirit of this speech, not debating yesterday's news about Wright's inflammatory words, which he's clearly rejected.
March 18, 2008 at 11:37am
An excellent piece of oratory--worthy of an inaugural address. Obama may lose the election but he just wrapped up the nomination.
March 18, 2008 at 11:41am
It ended ten minutes ago and I'm still moved. I looked to see if he could get himself out of a political jam. I heard what I felt to be an honest, heartfelt, morally informed speech that addressed race with more honesty and nuance than I've ever heard publicly stated. I wish everyone could see it in its entirety, because I already hear it distorted on the news channels. I am so glad he didn't overly distance himself, which would not have been credible. I also thought his acknowledgment of legitimate anger of both whites and blacks was masterful.
It also reminded me that I am not voting against Hillary; I am voting for a thoughtful, reasonable, inspiring man who may have his flaws, but sees things free of cant and old paradigms.
March 18, 2008 at 11:46am
Tep and Cleavet made my points. I think it's a good but not great speech (I read it, so maybe it's more inspiring if you hear it) and Tep has the main flaw: is nothing too offensive to disown a friend? I've broken up with friends over matters of principle and it's very painful -- spreading the message that AIDS is a white man's genocidal plot against blacks hits that threshhold.
Cleavet hits another point -- I think the Dem audience and the independent/GOP audience are pretty distinct on this one and will hear it differently.
March 18, 2008 at 11:51am
It *was* too long, but a fine speech nevertheless.
Senator Obama this morning didn't just give a brilliant speech, he gave a watershed speech.
I think that it will be seen in retrospect that Reverend Wright's misguided words, which posed such danger for Obama, turned out to provide him with a profound opportunity.
The issues that Obama was able to lay out on the table so eloquently today were discussed with more intelligence and nuance and insight than I have ever seen in a political speech on the subject.
This was very valuable. An opportunity for our nation.
I think you will see words from the Senator's speech of 18 March 2008 quoted for many years to come.
March 18, 2008 at 11:53am
I'll give you length, tep -- I think it's an excellent specimen of rhetoric in the best sense, but it probably could be punchier or pithier or whatever. But I think your other criticisms are misguided. I also want to know what Obama will do about the economy, how he'll manage foreign policy, etc. But he can't talk about those things in every speech. This is his big race speech, which he was absolutely required to give. So he talks about race; that's kinda the point.
Foreign policy can wait for the big foreign policy speech, which I very much hope will come soon.
Tep, there are plenty of people in my life that that say things I don't agree with, but I am not going to shun them. How do you expect a president to treat the speaker of the house, or the senate minority leader, if they say something inflammatory: Blacklist them from the White House, ensuring that nothing gets done? Also, the man who presided over your wedding, and baptized your children is more than just a friend.
It was too long...he made most of the key points early on, and the points he made there got across really well . Also good on the unproductivity oif the anger, etc., and in addressing the complexities --his white grandmother, (sort of also on Ferraro), white resentment of affirmative action. The important points got lost once he went to the crazy uncle in the attic bit, even in pointing out Wright's complexities.
It's important, rather than just saying the schools, etc., are to blame, to say out loud that there are real problems in homes, black and white and brown and whatever, that essentially fail to prepare their children for school...all kinds of studies, reported in the press over the past few years, have pointed to the differneces between parents who talk to their children, using a wide vocabulary, reading to their kids, etc., and those who tend not to. Would have been better if he hadn't tried to talk about schools and other social issues at all -- there was just to much of that, not really addressing them in detail needed, but with too much detail in this context -- it took attention away from the really good points at the top of the speech.
March 18, 2008 at 11:54am
tep, I think the context of Wright bringing him into Christianity probably makes Obama's relationship with him something along the lines of familial. What's more important, in my opinion, than disavowing any relationship with or admiration for Wright is his strong criticism of Wright's view of culture as static.
March 18, 2008 at 11:55am
tep, do you drink vinegar for breakfast? Just asking.
March 18, 2008 at 12:01pm
tepluk, I watched the speech and have not yet read it. I think Obama was both right and smart to deliver a preamble that provided the wide context this entire issue deserves before he address Wright's outrages.
I don't know if it will solve all of his political problems. Wright's harrangues are inflammatory in the extreme. But, he most definitely bought himself a hearing from people of intelligence and good will.
A key question is, did the Rev Wright deliver such oratory regularly? Was it a weekly or monthly staple? If such nastiness was regularly delivered and Obama sat through it, even loyalty and love don't fully resolve his tolerance of it for 20 years. Especially since he's a politician ambitious for the highest offices.
If it can be established that the Rev Wright went off on these tangents but rarely, the speech may sufficiently explain his not disavowing and abandoning the church.
All that said, whatever mistakes Wright or Obama may have made, the speech itself is invaluable. It can be a blueprint for addressing the racial divides in the future. And not just black/white divisions, but all of them.
I'd love to see the candidates respond and build on what Obama had to say, rather than either keep up with the daily verbal brickbats or stay silent. Taking a pause from the low-road rhetoric and building on Obama's speech would help all three candidates and the country.
Those with open hearts and open minds will feel good about what he had to say today.
I think he may lose the election, but that says more about the country today than the character of the candidate.
March 18, 2008 at 12:06pm
Unfortunately your ignorance of the black community makes you blind to what Obama has accomplished in this speech. Let me try and enlighten you a bit. The statements of Rev. Wright that are in question although shocking to whites is a pervasive theme in the black community. Almost every single black American has at one point or another either said similar statements out loud or thought these statements in their heads. That is what Obama is saying in this speech when he talks about what people say in polite conversation and what they say at home amongst their own. The brilliance of Obama's speech is that he recognizes that although he honestly and truthfully detests these statements made by Rev. Wright and has to make this clear to the American public, he must not at the same time be seen by the black community as rejecting the man outright because Rev. Wright only giving voice to the beliefs that a vast number of black Americans believe. I'm sorry teplukhin2you, but over 200 years of explicitly racist government policies that is still within living memory is going to leave a very negative mark which is exactly what Obama says in his speech. I believe Obama has walked this line perfectly by treating Rev. Wright as the crazy uncle who you love on most levels but is just a bit off. As a black man I have family members who were alive during Jim Crow who are the same way. If Obama went out whole hog and crucified Rev. Wright as you and others apparently would have him do, Obama would rightly look to the black community as a sell-out who throws those who helped and supported him under the bus as soon as they become a political liability in order to ingratiate himself with whites. After all, it's not as if Rev. Wright was railing against white people in general as Minister Farakhan is prone to do and is explicitly racist, rather he was railing against the perceived white power structure that allegedly oppresses both blacks and non-wealthy whites. Obama would have to disown him entirely if Rev. Wright's statements were explicitly racist, but because they are instead misguided and unpatriotic Obama is able to walk the line between disavowing the statements and not the person.
March 18, 2008 at 12:24pm
With all due respect, I don't understand what you are looking for in a speech like this. It would seem to me that Obama is doomed in your eyes no matter what he does.
I thought it to be a perfect speech. As someone who has lived in a rough neighborhood in Rochester NY and grew up in a failed mid-size city in Massachusetts, I can attest to the feelings he described. Obama managed, for the first time in my adult life, to affirm the feelings of all aggrieved parties. And putting that into words - and not just op-ed words, but spoken, authoritative words - takes time and patience. It requires patience on our part. Some of us will give it because we want to hear it, others because it is part of a job. Others won't because they don;t care for the candidate, or equate him with Pastor Wright's nasty remarks.
The most impressive part of the speech was how he managed to link the economic issues we face with the race issue, and without dumping on a guy who has become a thorn in his campaign. I do not agree with Obama's protectionist leanings, but I understand the pain he describes. I hope that he will things that foster the transition to a global economy, rather than create an inflexible labor market.
A serious speech like this requires a bit more from all of us, at least those willing to listen.
tep, he even had a part in his speech I thought you'd appreciate, when he lists the things we need to get back to talking about instead of these divisive distractions, and you missed it! I give up on you if you weren't impressed with that speech. Although I did see/hear it, and that probably helps.
March 18, 2008 at 12:25pm
The New York Times on Biden the day after he announced his candidacy:
-- Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who announced his candidacy on Wednesday with the hope that he could ride his foreign policy expertise into contention for the Democratic nomination, instead spent the day struggling to explain his description of Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running for president, as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Biden, much as we all might like him, wasn't ready for the 3PM phone call let alone the 3AM phone call. In the few debates I saw he gave what I thought was by far the best answer to any question when he told some YouTube dude to seek psychiatric help if he thought the assault rifle he was holding was "his baby." By then, however, Biden's campaign was in the toilet so he was freer to speak truth to stupidity than serious candidates are allowed to be these days.
Hillary Clinton is at best a sentimental candidate and at worst a candidate for those with sufficiently little imagination they need a familiar name. The manifest failures of George W. Bush have shown us the perils of that desire for familiarity. It is bad enough that Hillary Clinton was elected to the US Senate as a sympathy vote for putting up with her husband's filandering. But that she is too stupid to recognize the institutional perils of a dynastic monarchy is proof enough that she is unfit to be President of the Republic.
A Gore candidacy would again be an appeal to sentimentality. He may have done some marvelous speeches since he lost the election to Bush but in these speeches he has had a freedom that would be denied to him were he to run for election. But, just as with Clinton, a Gore presidency would be a backwards step, a conservative regression to the seemingly familiar - but time has moved on. We should not be electing Presidents on the basis of sympathy for their past losses - regardless of how guilty we feel about them.
Obama, on the other hand, is a candidate who can bring fresh ideas to the Whitehouse. His election would see the final end to the three-decade long Reagan era and would see the arrival of the long-waited post-Vietnam polical era. Obama certainly does not have all the answers but, unlike Clinton and Gore, he is not constrained by the failures of the past when he seeks answers.
March 18, 2008 at 12:30pm
Okay, my count of the posters responses is that most people didn't move much in response to Obama's speech, relative to their prior Obama/Hillary leanings that is, but hat there is a general shift in sentiment slightly toward Obama. The Obama fans are more sanguine, some of the recent anti-Obama sentiment has dissipated. If that is any indication of the direction of the broader public response, and I think that is quite likely, then his speech will have succeeded in preventing the sort of loss of confidence (a la Bear Stearns) that might have jeopardized his nomination at the last minute. Much too soon to say anything about its impact on the general. He will no doubt have to fight this battle more than once.
Beyond that, I was moved. He expressed a great deal of what I feel about the promise of America and the road yet to travel, and his example inspires hope that we don't have to travel that road at each others throats forever.
March 18, 2008 at 12:36pm
Thanks, Tep. Brilliant!
"...but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street"
Who put that fear in her head? I guess the good reverend would say the KKK. (Of course, he wouldn't say white preachers like him.) Wonder what Obama would say.
March 18, 2008 at 12:37pm
Thank you woland.
Oh I forgot the mention the white government spreading HIV to get rid of black people conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, one poll found that well over 50% of black Americans believed this to be true. I've even debated this point with a black lawyer once who believed this nonsense. Obama has to walk a fine line indeed with the black community with respect to Rev. Wright's inflammatory remarks.
March 18, 2008 at 12:39pm
I guess I'm amazed that this country with its strange, idiosyncratic political process has thrown up a candidate of such surpassing emotional intelligence and wisdom. Obama's speech disinterred the truth about racial resentments on both sides from the PC closet with an eloquence I haven't heard since MLK, an immense contribution whatever happens with his candidacy.
tep - on the evidence of your comments, I could easily imagine you complaining that the Gettysburg Address failed to deal with the economic hardships caused by the Civil War.
March 18, 2008 at 12:41pm
Not at all intending to pile on Tep, who I generally respect, if not agree with. But I just wanted to suggest a possible cultural issue. Not sure what your religious background is, Tep, but from many active protestant churches, the pastor is indeed a family member, particularly the long-standing pastors. I have had several Black ministers over the years who were "family" in this way, and they each had their warts. My current minister is white, is also family, and also occasionally says things I disagree with.
I really do think that we are dealing with different perspectives on ministers/family definitions.
March 18, 2008 at 12:42pm
I did not see the speech, only read it here. I know that can diminish the effect, especially with a speaker of Obama's eloquence. Nevertheless, I did not find it too long, except perhaps in the segment where he explains his understanding of Rev. Wright. I thought it was moving and rational and I hope all sides will take a few minutes to go through it. My main objection is his reliance on "corporate culture" as a bugbear. I think the message is more powerful if it establishes no natural enemies. We're left with this: We all work together to solve our problems and those caused by that corporation, in which we have no investment and over which we have no control. I think that damages the message he wanted to deliver.
We reached out to several friends of the magazine to respond to Obama's big speech in Philadelphia
March 18, 2008 at 12:51pm
The Promised Land, of which Dr. King spoke and claimed he saw but did not have the chance to set foot in, exists. "I'm here for Ashley" is evidence of that fact. That which exists within the human heart.
The Promised Land is like energy bound up within the atom. Unimagined power, yet very real.
Obama is proposing a Manhattan Project of the human heart. He is channeling Oppenheimer ("Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds") except in this case, the world that Obama seeks to destroy is long overdue for destruction.
Heaven's gonna burn your eyes, as Emiliana Torrini sings with Thievery Corporation.
March 18, 2008 at 12:52pm
lymon, regarding Obama dropping Wright like a stone, I am remminded of what Orwell said in his brilliant essay on Ghandi:
The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection,
that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty,
that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly
intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be
defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of
fastening one's love upon other human individuals.
Obama could drop Wright, denounce and reject, push the crazy old man aside and smear him as a lunatic, but Wright HAS been important to Obama, baptized his kids, etc. Politically Obama should torpedo him. But isn't it, I don't know, somewhat nice that he is putting a complicated personal relationship ahead of what would be most politically expedient?
I was incredibly moved by the speech. Obama gets race, gets the fears and resentments and prejudices that everyone has, and isn't afraid to talk about it. The speech was subtle and brilliant. I agree with Chan; this is watershed stuff.
March 18, 2008 at 1:01pm
How many people/voters are going to judge this speech from the reactions in the media more than the speech itself. On Politico they have a bunch of headlines (guess what: FOX puts the neg spin on it, CBS a positive, etc.). I'm having a hard time finding an objective take because so few are objective about the candidates. Andrew Sullivan writes how the speech puts him in a kind of patriotic esctasy. I imagine Clinton fans will sound more like the folks at The Corner (who aren't *all* cynical/negative on the speech).
March 18, 2008 at 1:02pm
Tep, at least vinegar is better than the Kool-aid.
A speech that starts off as the Gettysburg address, continues as an appeal to hope and unity, and ends with Grandma, God bless her. Barack sure knows how to hold on to his base.
Not that Obama was cynical at all. Just that he didn't say anything new. Yes, the Rev said terrible stuff, but you don't know him like I do.
And that's good enough for his fans. In fact, I'm sure someone on The Plank will be calling it the Speech of the Century. Someone here (Chan, are you serious?) has already called it "more than brilliant -- a watershed!"
Obama's Checkers speech.
March 18, 2008 at 1:03pm
williamyard: the line "Manhattan Project of the human heart" is a great one -- hats off!
March 18, 2008 at 1:04pm
Tep's single minded focus on issues, especially increasingly pressing economic ones, is not only laudable, it's crucial.
Of things one can afford "not to get," great political theater is near the top of the list.
That said, I agree with ndmackenzie. If the last 7 years have proven anything, its that folks like Biden and Gore rely on conventional wisdom that's hopelessly out of date.
March 18, 2008 at 1:07pm
Wow, all that power exists just in the human heart? Can we weaponize it somehow?! Stacey, get me DARPA on the line!
March 18, 2008 at 1:13pm
The skeptics vs the kool-aid drinkers...
CLEOPATRA: No, no: it is not that I am so clever, but that the others are so stupid.
POTHINUS: Truly, that is the great secret.
March 18, 2008 at 1:24pm
I don't think anyone here thinks issues *aren't* important. I know I feel like we are choking on emphemera, here. But race in America is an issue, a crucial one, and this speech absolutely nailed it. And, while nailing it, said exactly the right thing- it is something we have to work on to get past it, or we will allow it to keep distracting us from the other issues. He said this three or four times, so to say it is being somehow dodgy is just not right.
March 18, 2008 at 1:30pm
"Kool-aid drinkers" is sophistry's perfect epithet, because it can be deployed against anybody who believes in anything for any reason. Think we should cap carbon emissions? You're drinking the greenhouse kool-aid. Think we should stay in Iraq until the job is done? You're drinking the surge kool-aid. Think we should stop shooting heroine and living in filth? You're drinking the civilization kool-aid.
I hate that cliche with a m'f'ing passion, because it's so meaningless and condescending. If I wanted to be talked down to without any justification, I'd read indie rock blogs.
March 18, 2008 at 1:43pm
Well having read the speech I thought it touched on a lot of the issues that racism plays off of...economic disparity, fear of the "others", ignorance, educational opportunity and access, sense of community, etc and found it to be very persuasive in address that. I also think Obama addressed the issue of Wright rather effectively and explained where Wright came from and the actual relationship that Obama has/had with Wright regarding Obama's conversion to Christianity. The fact is that he's stated over and over in other interviews, like the one last night on the The News Hour w/ Gwen Ifill, that he doesn't agree with Wright's views on politics and race and has denounced them before and he'll have to denounce them again and again because some people require that kind of prostration ad infinitum until they "feel" satisfied.
But the fact that Obama has tried repeatedly to get beyond the issue of race to talk about the actual issues of the campaign and specifically the financial meltdown that Tep & others keep touching on, but I find it frustrating that the whole campaign gets distracted by this crap because if we actually talked about those issues and Obama addressed them we'd suddenly find ourselves realizing that a good part of the politicians are wearing their ass-hats on these issues. McCain would rather talk about Iraq all day and his "surge" than the economy because that Keating-Five fool would lose on the issue. Clinton would too. She's had plenty of opportunity to rise above the fray, if she only could, and talk about the issues instead she pulls the same bs of distraction.
skeptics want to know when obama will denounce himself as hopeful, squawk!
skeptics want to know when obama will denounce himself as hopeful squawk!
the jm_rice parrot learns a new trick.
March 18, 2008 at 1:50pm
Here's where I differ with y'all: I do not believe that race relations are or should be a top priority for our next president. Therefore I view lengthy-- you could say leisurely-- discussions of the differing perspectives of afr-amers of Wright's generation and those of Obama's generation as a distraction to get beyond, not a core issue in this electoral cycle.
If you disagree, specifically if you think improving race relations and closing not merely the racial divide between black and white, but also the racial generation gap between older afr-amers and younger ones, then I'm wrong, and Obama is of course the right candidate for you. Yes, he nails these issues, or maybe we should navigates them, better than anyone.
But please consider these very practical LEADERSHIP problems that the Obama approach raises for anyone who wants to be not Pastor-in-Chief, or Ted Koppel-in-Chief, but C-in-C.
1. Bandwidth (distracting the Obama admin)
Look at the length of this speech. Consider how much time has been spent on this already, and ask yourself whether someone whose mind and heart are so consumed by this matter would really have much passion, energy, and intellectual focus left over for Afghanistan, the dollar, etc. Ironic, to put it mildly, that the very people who decried the Iraq War as a huge distraction are rallying behind a man who's wrestling with this distraction that doesn't even have to do with foreign policy, let alone the long war vs jihadism.
2. Infinite Regress -- distracting the nation
It used to be that the racial dynamic was framed as black v. white, and that Obama was the great healer. Well, now Obama has expanded this dynamic, and his mission, to include the divide between Older Blacks and Younger Blacks. Subtle and deft thinker he is, he couldn't help adding another twist, with his analogy between his white granny and Wright. so now Obama's poised to heal the gap between Older Whites/Older Blacks and Younger Blacks/Younger Whites.
We can go on an on, can't we? (answer: Yes, we can!) Expect more speeches like this. How about exploring the rift between, say, Older Latinos (who may be "white" or "nonwhite") and Younger Blacks and Whites? Or Younger Asians and Older Blacks? What about Mixed Race Gen Z'ers vs Non_Mixed Race Gen X'ers?
3. Faith-Based Politics - back and badder than ever
Lastly, if y'all are fine with viewing POTUS as the keeper of the national conscience, spiritual healer, etc, again, Obama rocks. He's a great preacher, gives excellent sermon. Clinton was good in this vein, too, though not nearly so smooth and uplifting as Obama. It may just be that someone as resolutely opposed to preachers as I am will never be in the mainstream on this matter, and that I have to just suck it up and accept that Americans expect POTUS to be Pontifex Maximus. Me, I think it's bad for a secular republic. Bad when GOPers milk their faith, bad when Dems do it.
In short, I have a different view of the kind of leadership I think this nation desperately needs now. My preferred leader would be 1) decisive and action-oriented, and 2) ruthless at prioritizing and focusing on the really big issues. Obama is obviously a contemplative man with a heightened appreciation for irony, nuance, complexity-- a Thomas Jefferson. I don't think that's what we need now. We need an FDR: not the smartest in the class, or a deep thinker, but someone who can focus like a laser beam on the really big issues and then ACT.
March 18, 2008 at 2:26pm
re. distractions, consider how many articles, essays, blog posts on TNR _ALONE_ are now focused on this speech. Now compare this number to the number of items at TNR focused on the biggest financial crisis of our lifetimes, or the very real probability that we will lose the war in Afghanistan and that NATO will collapse, or the heretofore unthinkable possiblity that the dollar will soon cease to be the world's reserve currency.
I mean, I can see a RaceDiscussion to World-CrashingEvents Discussion ratio of, say, 1:2, or even 1:1. Hey, it's a liberal publication, so I'd even go for 2:1, twice as much Race discussion as $-NATO-Afghan discussion.
Are you people out of your minds?
A great nation that consumes itself with side issues while its currency, economy and two war efforts get pushed to the side is seriously decadent.
March 18, 2008 at 2:35pm
Your third point is adroit, tep, and it's the major reason why I'm not a more enthusiastic Obama supporter. I love the guy, but like you I worry that he may not have the personality we need at this precise moment. On the other hand, I'm even less convinced by McCain and Clinton, so whatcha gonna do?
Points one and two are just unfair. To steal a bit, some people are born black, some become black, and some have blackness thrust upon them. Obama has never made race the central issue of his campaign. But it pushed itself into the limelight, as it often does. He was forced to address it and it's a measure of his skill that he did so in such a subtle, intelligent, and sophisticated manner.
But I'm not voting for Obama because he's great on race and I doubt many people are. This speech was meant to put this racial politics crap we've been seeing for the last few weeks behind him. It just might work.
March 18, 2008 at 2:46pm
Obama's speech put me in mindo of Edward Everett's gaseous speech that preceded Lincoln's very SHORT-- terse, even-- and FOCUSED, RELEVANT speech.
From my president in 2009 I do not want journeys through history, through the Bible, discussions of dear old granny, etc. I want leadership and action. And on this issue, the only thing that mattered was whether he agreed with the garbage that Wright spews. He could have dispatched that with a speech one-tenth as long as this, and then devoted the rest of his time to telling us why he's better equipped than HRC or McC to put out the fires threatening our republic now.
March 18, 2008 at 2:49pm
"Tep, there are plenty of people in my life that that say things I don't agree with, but I am not going to shun them."
National political leaders have to turn on their friends all the time. They have a higher responsibility. The responsibility that goes with leadership of the global hegemon, ie leadership of the free world, is an awesome responsibility. It is vastly greater than Obama's obligation to a preacher who spews crackpot conspiracy theories.
I used to think that Dowd's charge of Obama as Bambi was dumb and cheap, but increasingly, I think it fits. The man's spine has no steel. He is not fit for the Oval Office.
March 18, 2008 at 2:55pm
Tep, you can't be serious. Do you truly think that America spends too much time thinking about race? Unless you live in the academic world, trust me, we don't. Do you truly think that any of our significant social problems can be addressed without involving an honest discussion about race? Because as long as there is the black-boogy-man for the right to scare blue-collar white voters into voting Republican, and as long as there is the white-boogy-man for the left to blame the problems endemic to minority communities on, there will be no progamatism.
March 18, 2008 at 2:58pm
ratner - draft Gore. Spread the word.
Sorry, folks, Obama simply doesn't have the right stuff to lead the free world. There's a war on, actually two, and there may be another if Pakistan melts down, AND our economy's crashing.
We cannot risk having a leader who is distracted with this secondary issue. It's as if FDR came to office focused on the Temperance Movement and combatting anti-Catholic prejudice.
I just did some spot checking elsewhere on the web. Over at the National Review the talk is not so nice, and more of a portent of what Obama would be up against if nominated.
March 18, 2008 at 2:59pm
teplukhin2you writes: "My preferred leader would be 1) decisive and action-oriented, and 2) ruthless at prioritizing and focusing on the really big issues. "
I thought 7 years of The Decider had put paid to the idea that the most important features of a President were being "decisive and action-oriented" while being "ruthless at prioritizing and focusing on the really big issues."
There is absolutely no benefit in being "decisive and action-oriented" if you can not first of all make good decisions. And Hillary Clinton failed that test when she supported the disastrous war in Iraq.
There is absolutely no benefit in being "ruthless at prioritizing and focusing on the really big issues" if you are unable to identify the big issues in the first place. Even though Barack Obama has scorned discussion of race throughout the campaign his enemies continue to raise the issue to the point where the big issue for Obama today was to put this issue to bed once and for all. From the accounts I have seen he has been more than successful.
The big issue facing the Democratic Party right now is how to win the next Presidential election and elect as many Representatives and Senators as possible. The doomed candidacy of Hillary Clinton is an enormous distraction from that issue. The continued existence of that candidacy is yet more proof that Hillary Clinton is incapable of prioritizing and focusing on the really big issue. It shows that she is far more concerned with her personal vanity than she is with the future of the Democratic Party and the United States.
The most decisive action the Democratic Party could take right now is convincing Hillary Clinton to leave the race and allow the party to unite behind Barack Obama. The time has come to put this pathetic and petty infighting behind us and ruthless focus on the only big issue that matters and that is getting Barack Obama elected.
March 18, 2008 at 3:06pm
Tep no one I think disagrees that the focus SHOULD be on the issues of the economy and that our intrepid leader act accordingly and decisive in their response to world issues and domestic issues. But I find it frustrating when a candidate wants to talk about those things then has to keep hitting a pause button to address what you consider a non-issues issue like race. Now I suspect the reason BHO spoke about the generational divide isn't because he can heal the rift between old school racists and a younger generation of people who take those comments as ignorant or foolish but to illustrate that there exists a younger generation that is trying to move past that line of thinking and while we don't agree with grandpa's thinking that all blacks cant' drive while he can't park the car without help, we also recognize that moving past that line of thinking by doing so is better than saying he's racist now kick grandpa out of the house..
I think the reason Obama had to make this speech was because the issue of his pastor's racially and by some measures paranoid and unpatriotic statements were becoming an issue not of Obama's own making. Up until this point, a major candidate hasn't addressed race at all except in tepid platitudes of being a nation of immigrants. Obama had to address the issues of Wright and the racial undertones of this election to date in the best way he could.
That being said, race is as much a cultural hangnail for a lot of the baby boomer and aged generations as it isn't for a vast majority of younger Americans. Be that as it may, Obama was put into this position of addressing race because of his pastor's comments. Obama has tried to address that and to some peoples' satisfaction and for others not at all. Now, the next speech should be about those very issues that you and others (like me) arre asking the candidates to address. I can't see McCain doing the economy speech except to tap-dance around the word recession, Hillary will just wax poetic about her glory days of being 'there' for decisive economic decisions during Bill's presidency. Obama will have to talk about what he's going to do in specific enough details to assuage folks like you but also walk the fine line of saying what he would do and what he can do.
March 18, 2008 at 3:08pm
My choice would be Biden, but Gore will do. Gore-Biden, even better.
March 18, 2008 at 3:15pm
"I find it frustrating when a candidate wants to talk about those things then has to keep hitting a pause button to address what you consider a non-issues issue like race."
So Obama's not in control of his message? Or are you implying that he lacks the rhetorical skill needed to change the subject? Also, how on earth could he not have seen this issue coming?
Here's how I would change the subject. "I disavow these repulsive remarks-- period." THen a BRIEF explication of where Wright's coming from, maybe a much shorter version of Obama's windy when-in-the-course-of-human-events exegisis, and a quick segway into much more important issues.
Look, from a marketing/positioning perspective, maybe dwelling on race actually plays to Obama's strong suit. He's obviously brilliant at navigating these treacherous waters.
My point is, this simply is not the right time for someone so focused on racial matters. Bigger fish to fry now. And no, race is no longer the Big Kahuna for our nation. There's a war on etc
GORE FOR PRESIDENT. Or Biden if Gore won't run.
March 18, 2008 at 3:23pm
Andrew Davis - I stated clearly that I'm cool with a ratio of Race content to $-Afghan-NATO etc content of 1:1, or even 2:1. But not 20:1.
This is a distraction. And no, I'm not an academic. We just don't have the luxury of electing a president who's going to be consumed with this stuff the way Clinton and his admin were with Lani G, gays in the military etc in 1993-94.
March 18, 2008 at 3:27pm
Yes...taking comments of the national review online as serious considering the fact that John Derbyshire is having 'fun' as he puts it with African leader names says a lot about how great the NRO is in the field of discourse. but then they're expert panel whines on about "why didn't he talk about school choice, he should have talked about school choice" or "why didn't he flog Wright in the church yard" or "why can't he be our uncle tom for ridding racial preferences from the federal law books".
But then I don't hear those smarmy ass-hats talking about why John McCain doesn't talk about taking Jerry Falwell out to the wood shed for saying 9/11 was the fault of godless liberals and gays in NYC. Oh wait...that's because he's not McCain's pastor but just a far Right moral authoritarian whose comments like that aren't un-American just silly.
March 18, 2008 at 3:32pm
Tep -- race, racism, and discussions about race may be annoying, but its peverse if we avoid the issue by only electing white men.
March 18, 2008 at 3:40pm
Tep...I think Obama HAS tried to change the subject back to the issues. He has issued those terse, short statements the first time around that Wright became an issue for BHO, several times. Yet, here we are with the pundits, youtube, FOX, MSM and the Right rubbing their hands saying "look! look! Obama goes to church with a crazy pastor! Obama must be a Jew and America hater now." Ignoring the press would have played into the rumor that Obama wouldn't denounce Wright.
So yes...he's had to hit the pause button to address this shit. But I don't see him running as the "race" candidate and he's addressed it when it gets ridiculous and tries to move on. So if we keep talking about race we can keep him talking about race. See how it works?
But my desire that folks can get past the race distractions is as hopeful as yours are for Gore / Biden slim to none perhaps.
March 18, 2008 at 3:43pm
jm_rice, you and I frequently agree, but not this time. We all know the Checkers speech was effective but moronic.
This one was brilliant in content, but may not turn out to have been as dispositive. I suspect that his Wright problems will linger, but that among the influentials, it will have impact.
The reason I characterize the speech as "watershed" is because he addressed some of the most inflammatory issues we as a people face in terms that were intelligent, insightful, nuanced, and helpful.
You can still question his judgement if he and his children sat through a weekly staple of sermons like the ones we've now seen. But, I suspect now that the worst of these diatribes were saved for special occasions.
I also suspect that he stayed in the church for a combination of reasons. True loyalty to and love of Rev Wright. Calculated political reasons having to do with black cred, and his local base.
But, my appreciation of his speech has less to do with whether he got himself totally off the hook (even with me).
What I appreciated is that he put complex and sophisticated problems or race and history on the table in a way that can be intelligently and usefully discussed in the future.
I think he laid out a blueprint for making the discussion of race more real and candid, and for actually solving our racial problems over time.
March 18, 2008 at 3:48pm
single - He's a great talker, no question. I just don't see him as a strong leader. Your mileage may vary, and no doubt will
Andrew - myself, I couldn't care less about race. It means nothing to me or to my calculations as to how to vote. It's because I'm post-racial that I find Obama's embrace of a man for whom race dominates his every waking sensation to be so bizarre.
Obama has convinced afr-amers he's one of them. Fine, mission accomplished. Now young Hal needs to convince us and the world that he can throw over Falstaff/Wright and start focusing on the awesome and all-consuming issues confronting the leader of hte free world.
If you recall your Shakespeare, Hal's disavowal of his former pals was nasty, mean and short. Yeah, that's the way LEADERS have to act sometimes.
March 18, 2008 at 3:56pm
I'd hardly call one speech given during the middle of the day on a Tuesday "focused."
More importantly, there are angles here you don't seem to have considered. First off, it wouldn't be too difficult to make the case that our national inability to grasp how deep the sectarian divisions in Iraq ran was at least partially to do with our national unwillingness to confront this particular side issue in a forthright manner. Second, I'd say the same is categorically true when it comes to explaining the dangerously sad state of our foreign and intelligence services. In one instance we are still hiring more French and German speakers than Arabic and Farsi speakers and in the other we are engaged in a truly idiotic effort to train a cadre of language experts rather than just, you know, hiring them. I suspect that no one has stood up in congress to condemn that as insanity because doing so would mean running headfirst into the race thorn bush. It might even be fair to say that racial issues underly the intelligence communities hiring practices, and the state dept's advancement track. Third, finally, its simply a fact that Europeans and their descendants are aging out of the workforce at an alarming rate. One day soon the trend will eat Russia alive and if we don't want it to happen here, we need to have a saner national conversation about race -- immigration and education simply won't get themselves fixed with out one.
March 18, 2008 at 4:11pm
I didn't hear the speech -- it was given while my time zone was sleeping. But after reading it, I think it was a brilliant speech. No, it wasn't the Gettysburg Address, but it was damned good. He raised sensitive and difficult issues in a thoughtful way, and reinforced his own campaign message in the process. I found it to be an intellectually and emotionally forceful speech, and at the same time politically effective. And, unusually for a politician's speech, it is one that you can study and find more depth in. I don't think it is just superficial ear candy.
Teplukhin, I've said before that I agree the issues you are focused on are among the most important we face. But you're approaching monomania here. I suggest re-reading the speech carefully. He talks about how in the last couple of weeks race has been raised by others as a divisive issue, but now it is becoming a distraction from the real issues. He's pretty direct about what he sees as the more immediate issues, and they are not so different from what you say.
jm_rice, I think you have been drinking the bitter Kool Aid of cynicism. Enough with the Kool Aid. I can't take anyone's argument seriously if they are tossing around the Kool Aid reference.
- JEFF FREY
March 18, 2008 at 4:39pm
Lots of talk about how *brilliant* this speech was. Can someone in a few words tell me the new idea(s) it contains or the fresh insight(s)? i'd like to enjoy the speech as much as most everybody else.
March 18, 2008 at 7:51pm
What was brilliant, basman, was that the man deigned to speak candidly with the entire populace at an adult level about the complexities of race relations in America.
He avoided all the ancient clichés on the subject. He spoke with understanding and balance of the grievances of blacks as well as the understandable grievances of the white working class over preferences given to black people in the same economic boat as they.
As a man who is equally "black" and "white" and who comes from outside the American black slave descendant traditions (though his wife is of that tradition) he was able to view and address the race issue with extraordinary balance.
He also explained in ways that were readily understandable, if not exculpatory, in both emotional and intellectual terms, why he could not and would not disavow Rev Wright as a person, while condemning the Reverend's sermons.
He also discussed in clear terms why a man of Wright's generation might harbor the hostile attitudes he apparently has against America while pointing out the balancing good in the works of Wright.
Now, to say that Obama's speech was superb, and yes brilliant, is not to say that he has answered all questions to everyone's satisfaction. Or that he has solved all of his political problems.
Nonetheless, in tone, content, and level of discourse, this speech, on a subject of great import and substance, set new standards in quality, insight, and nuance.
Whatever one thinks of Obama, and I am not a supporter of his, this speech is important, and I believe will change the terms and the landscape of racial discussions in the future.
March 19, 2008 at 9:15am
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