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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Won't Disown You

A truly remarkable speech from Obama today on race. I read it before I saw the commentary or the video clips, and I was emotionally moved by it. Partly because of its unadorned honesty on a topic that no one treats honestly, but also because of its intellectual seriousness.

Obama is trying to be the candidate who will not pander, a rather dramatic contrast to Team Clinton, just as his cool demeanor was a natural contrast to the fiery preacher from whom he sought distance but not escape. Some commentators (Roger Simon, Joe Scar, etc.) criticized Big O for not disowning Wright altogether. But really now, how credible would that have been? It would have seemed opportunistic, and no one would have bought it. The theme today was much more deft. Pastor Wright is America, not just black America but white America. We've all got demons on the race issue. In defending Wright as "family," just like his white grandmother, Obama told Americans that he would not disown them either, no matter how much they might disagree, and no matter how much it might cost him in the short term. I don't know that everyone who watches the speech or hears clips of it on the news will take that away. There are many who cannot help but see race as black and white. For one graceful moment, however, Barack Obama appealed to our grayer angels, and we are a better nation for it.

5 Comments:

At 7:53 AM, Blogger fronesis said...

Very well-said, tmcd.

I too was very genuinely moved by Obama's speech. He resisted the temptation to position-take, to 'disown' Wright, which would only have been seen as disingenuous. And he displayed a profound ability to grasp both the weight of history in terms of race, the need to understand the historical creation of racial resentment (both black and white) while also seizing this moment as an opportunity to understand and ventilate those resentments.

The commentators who instantly try to interpret this speech as a part of the game of political football are doing a real injustice - not just to Obama, but to all of us.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger DrJabbott said...

A great speech but that line: "I won't disown..." will be Obama's downfall... thats the line Fox and others will use and are using against him. It prevents a line being drawn under this... and cues endless re-runs. This is politics. Politics is dirty, despite all your hopes and all Obama's hopes, that is something you won't change. I really do fear that that one line will be the line that Obama and Team Obama will live to regret.

An interested, pro-Democrat Brit.

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger DK said...

A brilliant, nuanced, extraordinarily intellgient speech. It will go down in history as one of the best ever by a presidential candidate. But along with being extraordinarily intelligent, it was also extraordinarily risky, and that doesn't usually pay-off in politics. So I agree with drjabbott.

 
At 6:34 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

With that speech, Obama sought to pull a white rabbit out of a black hat: show both whites and blacks that by embracing the messiness and the contradictions that define America and its attitudes toward race, he can embody a common hope in the midst of polarized fears. Quite a magic trick. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's as if Obama were Neo in the Matrix, operating with a level of dexterity that the other players can rarely even see, much less match.

If my Vandy class today is any indication, however, it will be a tough sell. They were overwhelmingly swayed by the snippets of Wright thundering from the pulpit. He scared the living shit out of them, and it would never occur to them that John Hagee might be equivalent or even worse. Crazy white right-wing extremists do not scare them one bit. They struggled desperately to find a way to distinguish the two cases, arguing in seriousness that McCain's bald opportunism or the very commonality of Hagee's wackjobbery meant that was all OK on the right. They also couldn't grasp that you might disagree with your minister about something political--authority must be accepted, or you find another church. Granted, this is a very conservative group from mostly privileged backgrounds--and almost exclusively white. But it does not bode well when this is the educated white response.

 
At 7:48 AM, Blogger Frances said...

I basically agree with dk and drjabbot. But the sad thing is that there is NOTHING at this late date that Obama could do about Wright that would have "drawn a line" under this situation. Those video clips of Wright put him in an inescapable prison. He cannot disown and he cannot embrace.

And there is nothing to be done about it, aside from hope it will die down. But it's showing no signs of doing so. The goal of the Right will be to collapse Wright into Obama, and they will succeed in doing so, to some extent. He is damaged, and nothing can fully undo that damage. In my view he is still LESS damaged than Clinton (the sine qua non of damaged candidates), but this has taken a severe toll.

No one in the media will inquire further into Wright, to make him a more complex character. He has become a hatemonger, with no redeeming qualities. He IS the soundbytes they play, nothing more.

When Obama said in his speech that the media could go back to those clips of Wright over and over again until the election, I think producers at all the major networks and cable channels said "what a GREAT idea!"

 

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