March 18, 2008


Obama's Speech on Race & Religion: Barack Obama Addresses Race & Religion in Wake of Controversy (Barack Obama, March 18, 2008)

The following remarks were provided to ABC News by the campaign of Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., and are as prepared for delivery. The speech, entitled "A More Perfect Union", was given by Obama on March 18, 2008, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. [...]

[A] similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience  as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze  a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns  this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years.

You really have to be obsessed by race to imagine that it played more then a very peripheral role in the election of Ronald Reagan and the return to dominance of the GOP over the past forty years. But then, Mr. Obama's church affiliation suggests that he is, in fact, so obsessed. Bad as that is, even worse is to assume that everyone is likewise deranged. Little as the Left may like the fact, race isn't much of a concern in Americans everyday lives. So to tell us that the black nationalist views of his church parallel our own views -- whether as whites or Republicans or both -- is just offensive.

On Defensive, Obama Plans Talk on Race (JODI KANTOR and JEFF ZELENY, 3/18/08, NY Times)

Some associates advised him against giving the speech. “Race is now officially on the table. It’s not going away after this,” a senior aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, recalled one adviser saying.

The episode has left Mr. Obama tending to a firestorm fed by matters no less combustible than faith, patriotism and race. It could help Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign advance its argument that Mr. Obama is “unvetted,” and that he is less electable than Mrs. Clinton come fall. In interviews, Republican strategists mapped out how Mr. Obama’s association with Mr. Wright could be used against him in a general election.

By addressing head-on such sensitive topics, his speech, aides and other Democrats said, could be a pivotal moment for Mr. Obama, who, for all of his electoral victories and copious news coverage, is still known only in the broadest terms by many Americans.

“This isn’t red and blue America,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant, referring to the address that catapulted Mr. Obama to prominence at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “This is black and white America.”

“And when you really have a serious conversation about race, people clear the room,” said Ms. Brazile, who as the manager of Al Gore’s bid for the White House in 2000 was the first black woman to run a major presidential campaign.

Mr. Obama is particularly vulnerable because voters are still getting to know him, said Democratic and Republican strategists — and a few voters as well. The Wright affair “makes me question other things. What else do we not know?” asked Karen Norton, 58, a computer saleswoman in North Carolina and a Republican who said that, until now, she had been stirred by Mr. Obama’s message of national reconciliation.

Mr. Wright’s statements, said strategists, threaten his greatest strength, his reputation as a unifying, uplifting figure, capable of moving the country past old labels and divisions.

“The problem is the complete contradiction between the message of the Obama campaign and the message of the minister who’s been his close friend and confidant for 20 years,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant unaffiliated with any campaign.

Mr. Obama has also pitched himself as a candidate who can attract religious voters back to the Democratic Party, one who speaks the language of the Bible fluently and testifies about what he says is the impact of Christianity on his own life.

“What better way to try to undercut the way he integrates faith and political vision than to say we should all be secretly afraid of his church?” said Jim Wallis, a left-leaning evangelical who has had longstanding relationships with both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, and who says that Mr. Wright has been unfairly caricatured in recent portrayals.

In strategic terms, Mr. Wright’s statements are tricky for the Obama campaign to address. The more the candidate denounces the minister’s words, the more voters may question why Mr. Obama attached himself to Mr. Wright in the first place and stuck with him for so long, not only attending his church but naming a book after one of his sermons.

Because of his own emphasis on powerful oratory, said Todd Harris, a Republican strategist, Mr. Obama cannot dismiss Mr. Wright’s words as mere rhetoric.

“At the core of the campaign is the fact that words matter,” said Mr. Harris, who is not now affiliated with any campaign. “Central to the idea of his candidacy is the idea that a speech can change the world. You can’t have a campaign that has that notion at its core and then point to other people’s words and say, those don’t really matter.”

Asked how Republicans might use the Wright matter in the general election, Mr. Harris cited several incidents that could be used to question Mr. Obama’s patriotism. “Negative ads are built on negative patterns,” he said.

He pointed to Mr. Obama’s decision to stop wearing an American flag lapel pin and the statement that his wife made about being proud of her country for the first time in her lifetime. (Mr. Obama has called the lapel pin an empty symbol of patriotism, and Mrs. Obama has said she was quoted out of context).

Five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, Mr. Obama had hoped to be refining his strategy to win over the support of white male voters — a demographic that began to slip away in his Ohio defeat. Instead he is facing his second straight week of negative news coverage. In a television interview with PBS on Monday, Mr. Obama called his pastor’s remarks “stupid” and conceded, “it has been a distraction from the core message of our campaign.”

Obama Walks Arrogance Line (RON FOURNIER, 3/18/08, AP)
[T]here's a line smart politicians don't cross — somewhere between "I'm qualified to be president" and "I'm born to be president." Wherever it lies, Barack Obama better watch his step.

He's bordering on arrogance.

The dictionary defines the word as an "offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride." Obama may not be offensive or overbearing, but he can be a bit too cocky for his own good.

The freshman senator told reporters in July that he would overcome Hillary Rodham Clinton's lead in the polls because "to know me is to love me."

A few months later, he said, "Every place is Barack Obama country once Barack Obama's been there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 18, 2008 10:44 AM

Oh good grief, he's speaking in third person just like a sportscaster or an athlete.

Posted by: Bartman at March 18, 2008 12:42 PM

This speech is insane. Absolute political lunacy. I thought this guy wanted to be president?

Posted by: b at March 18, 2008 12:50 PM

We all have our perspectives. Mine is influenced by more than 20 years as one half of an interracial couple. I'm Anglo, and my wife is Afro, which means I have experiences most Anglos don't.

For instance, I get to hear my wife tell me how the police followed her home from the grocery store, or they stopped her for driving while black just a bit too close to the Stanford Law School.

When we're out together, some very odd things happen -- things that no white couple or black couple will ever experience.

There's much we don't agree on. Affirmative action is a good example.

And there's much we do agree on. Barack Obama's speech this morning is a fine example.

Before that speech, I thought the Jeremiah Wright controversy meant the end to Obama's prospects. Now I feel as if Clinton's prospects are over. My wife agrees.

Posted by: LyricalReckoner [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 18, 2008 1:59 PM

My reaction as a white person born post-segregation: Obama's prescription is just too exhausting. Who wants to spend his life dissecting where the races went wrong? Who wants a prolonged "dialogue on race." Who wants the perpetual guilt trip? Love and respect one another, regardless of race. But please no more of this never-ending leftist obsession with racial grievance. Obama has lost 60 percent of white voters with this Rev. Wright business. Ergo: He can't win.

Posted by: Jaytee at March 18, 2008 3:31 PM

Hillary had no prospects. The question is whether Obama does. Just giving the speech is a concession that his campaign is about race, which is reason to believe he has no prospects. No one wanted to hear him preach to us about our resentments.

Race matters to him, not to us.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2008 4:13 PM

I was most offended by his comparison of his grandmother to Rev. Wright. Perhaps his grandmother would have had a better opinion of blacks if his father had stuck around and helped her daughter rear him. This speech may be enough to satisfy his radical base but it will hurt him in the general election.

Posted by: msmary at March 18, 2008 4:55 PM

I agree with Jaytee 100%.

Posted by: LC at March 18, 2008 5:19 PM

"Throw Granny under the bus"
Obama 08

Posted by: Perry at March 18, 2008 5:57 PM

On a historical level, (as OJ notes) linking white grievances over affirmative action with the Reagan Coalition is just silly. Reagan forged his elections (and his 'movement') over the complete ineptitude of the Democratic party to govern the country, and to face the Soviets. Taxes, energy, alliances, and ultimately, freedom - that was what the Reagan coalition was about. A better, stronger country. If Obama really thinks it was all about race, then he is a fool. Which he may be, after listening to Wright for 20 years. If he is just stoking racial fires from 1980, then he is worse.

The real gut shot is Fournier's piece (for AP). Obama is acting like Teddy in 1979 - presuming it is his turn, presuming it is his due, presuming that he transcends all questions (and all suspicion). But Obama has done nothing to earn the trust of 60 million voters, now has he? Teddy withered under examination (in his own party's primaries), and Obama is not going to win a majority of delegates, either.

Someone should ask Obama whom he supported in the 2004 primaries. Al Sharpton, perhaps? Or did he vote 'present'?

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 18, 2008 6:03 PM

The invocation of the white grandmother is cynical in another way. Having decided he was black, Obama now reminds us he's white in order to claim he, therefore, can't be racist toward whites.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2008 6:24 PM

Wow, How did the Dems end up with this guy in the running? Talk about the most wacked thing I've seen in American politics for a long time.

Posted by: KRS at March 18, 2008 8:18 PM

The black half of Barack [redacted] Obama resents the supposed privileges which the white half of Barry O. inherited from his white hippie-commie overeducated mommy and used to grease his way through Columbia and Harvard. Being a do-nothing Senator in a safe seat isn't enough reparations for the pair, as only the Presidency will make him whole. And if we don't give it to him, we're all a bunch of redneck bigots

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 19, 2008 12:21 AM

Lets see how many stereotypes you can cram into one post, Raoul:

1. Commie hippy mother (a rational white person would not marry a black man, right?

2. Greased his way through Columbia and Harvard (because he could never have simply excelled through both institutions based on his own intellectual gifts).

3. "do-nothing" (because you KNOW they are all lazy as hell).

LMAO!!!! I dont even need to call you one. You called yourself out, bucky. You are such a lost cause.

Obama was speaking to the intelligent, thoughtful, inspired American. Not you. You are a lost cause, sweetie.

Posted by: Lisa at March 19, 2008 8:08 AM

Do-nothing has nothing to do with his race, just his scant record of achievement as a legislator. What has he done in the Senate? Can you name a single bill he proposed and passed?

Posted by: oj at March 19, 2008 9:24 AM

Lisa, just hit the post button once and then trust that your comment will appear in the fullness of time. You're like a breath of moonbat fresh air here in the redoubt of rational thought.

Posted by: erp at March 19, 2008 1:22 PM