Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech- A Little Something for Everybody-and Nobody

Barack Obama's address on Race today in Philadelphia was a desperate bid to save his presidential prospects in the light of release of videotapes of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright's sermons. While much of the mainstream media has tried to downplay the story, Obama had obviously come to the conclusion that it was major news-and it was threatening to kill his campaign. While reactions to the speech are still playing out, I would like to offer my own reaction at this time.

Without repeating the various lines in his speech, suffice to say that, like most of his speeches, Obama's prepared remarks today were typically eloquent-especially in contrast to when he is answering questions on uncomfortable topics-as he was this week on the TV news circuit. The problem with the speech was, as I see it, that he tried to appeal to everyone, and, in the process, may have alienated everyone with the obvious exception of those who choose to believe and accept whatever he says because he is their guy.

Obama, while condemning Wright's remarks, stated that he could not disown the pastor any more than he could disown the black community. Personally, I am not sure the two are linked. I sure hope not although Wright's parishioners have spoken out loud and clear in their support of him. Is Obama the only member of the church who rejects Wright's sentiments?

Obama also reiterated the racial grievances of black Americans and made the usual calls for racial healing. Obama obviously felt he had to give something to his black listeners and speak of injustice. No question, Obama is walking a very thin tightrope here, trying to hold on to wavering white voters while not alienating black voters who may conclude he is an "Uncle Tom" (a ugly term also used by Wright in some of his sermons).

Obama spoke of Wright's good works and good qualities, stating that he will not turn his back on him. He also referred to his white grandmother, who allegedly referred to her fears of encountering black men on the street. He also acknowledged that he had, indeed, been in the pews on occasions when Wright made "controversial" statements. This is an apparent contradiction from statements he had been making just in the past few days to the effect that he had not been present during these particular diatribes. (Is it possible Obama realized that there may be some video out there showing him in the audience on these occasions-perhaps doing what everyone else was apparently doing-standing, clapping and cheering?)

It appears that Obama's theme is that, yes, he disagrees with Wright's statements about whites and America, but that he will not turn away from his spiritual mentor and his church. America must deal with black historical grievances and present-day "real anger", but he wants to bring about racial conciliation. In other words, Obama's speech had something in it for everyone, just what a politician's speech is supposed to be.

I still am left with serious questions about Mr Obama:

First, how could you sit there in that church for two decades and listen to this rhetoric and racial diatribes. Senator Obama, when Minister Wright was railing about white people, he was talking about your mother-and grandmother. Did you never take offense at that?

You talk about your love of this country. Yet, you sat there and listened to the worst things being said about your country by Wright. I don't know about you, sir, but I would have gotten up and walked out of my church and never gone back if the pastor talked like that about America-or about other ethnic groups not my own. But you, sir, are a sitting US Senator. If nothing else, as a US Senator and aspiring presidential candidate, what kind of judgement does this show? The same kind of judgement that allowed you to do business with a character like Tony Rezko?

Already, many news commentators sympathetic to Obama are raving about the eloquence of his speech. It is spin. The fact of the matter is that in attempting to please all sides, in my view, Obama has hurt his cause only more. As I acknowledged above, Obama is caught squarely in the middle of the racial divide in this country. He doesn't want to be regarded as simply the "Black Candidate", rather one who cuts across racial barriers. Sadly, that is going by the wayside very quickly. I don't know how the senator is going to reconcile these issues. Certainly many white voters who are wavering wanted Obama to cut his ties to Wright and the church in strong and forceful terms. To do so, however, would have alienated many black voters. So he tried to cut it both ways. I don't think it will work.

I don't know if Obama secretely sympathizes with Wright's views; I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. His continued membership in such a church and association with Wright would make any reasonable person suspicious. What is really sad and ironic is that the candidate and the campaign that held out hope of advancing black-white relations in America to so many, even among his opponents, is now turning into something that, in the end, may only set relations back.

All of the above, of course, is written from the perspective of a white male in his 60s who probably doesn't understand what goes on in black churches and has possibly deluded himself into thinking that over the course of his life, he had seen dramatic racial progress. All I can say is that if Jeremiah Wright is typical, then we have made very little progress. If there is actually someone out there who can bring Americans together, that person is not going to come out of the Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago.

So is there a secret side to Mr Obama that he has tried to hide from the public? I don't know, but one thing is becoming more obvious every day.

Barack Obama is just another politician.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

Your final statement says it all. 'Nuff said.

Ingrid said...

Gary, I think that you are a bit hard on Obama, and just what do you want him to say?
When I was a new immigrant to the US, 40 years ago, my white American husband and I managed an apartment building and were told by the owners, a Greek immigrant son and a Jewish American woman, that we were not allowed to rent to black people. My husband hid in the other room when a black couple came to rent, and let me, an immigrant with limited English, lie to them that there was no vacancy. I am still ashamed of that, I still feel terrible about that, and I think that black people have reasons to be angry, still. Maybe Obama just understands that better than you.

Gary Fouse said...


I don't disagree with what you said. We are the same age and I recall the way things were in America when I was growing up. I also remember when I was an MP in Germany and had to deal first- hand with a tense racial situation.

I addressed a lot of this in a previous post on Race in America. We as Americans have acknowledged our past and have done a lot to try and change things.

But whites are getting weary of being called racists, especially when the charges are frivolous. It doesn't help anything.

Today, the state of black America is bad and we all have an interest in remedying that. However, white racism cannot be blamed for every problem that black Americans suffer today. Blacks who are in prison today are there because they committed crimes-probably against other blacks. It is innocent blacks who have to live in inner cities who are the biggest victims of black crime.

In addition, the biggest problem facing black America is the lack of a stable 2-parent family. Illigitamacy is today 70%-in the worst days of segregation, it was 25%. That is the root cause of everything else. That cannot be blamed on white racism.

Obama is campaigning for president as someone who will bring us together-yet, for 20 years, he sat in this church and listened to words of hate against whites, Jews and America-and said nothing-until he was forced to do so by publicity. If he, as a black person, is angry about our history, then he should come out and say so-and run on that platform.

We as Americans have every right to be concerned about those who spread hate-no matter who it comes from. Obama wants to be our president. He has no long resume, so it is important that we know who this man is.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Shoot, I may be turning around on this one, Gary. I actually blogged about it. Just to point out two things though:

1. Are those clips representative of what it's like at every one of Wright's sermons? I honestly don't know.

2. I think that Obama actually addressed your points regarding black families in his speech. I certainly didn't see it as a "blame whitey" sort of a thing - just the opposite, in fact.

Gary Fouse said...

Well, the more I pick apart the speech, I still think he tried to cut the baby in half. On the one hand, he gave us a lecture on race and said we still have to confront the issue. We have been for 40 years. If we can/t hold people like Wright accountable then what have we achieved?

Obama, in the end, defended Wright, so as not to alienate his base. That is his choice, and admittedly, it is a difficult choice if not impossible.

Keep in mind, Obama and his camp have excoriated Geraldine Ferraro for her comments, which pale in comparison to Wright's. He also immediately called for Don Imus to be fired for his comments. A little hypocrisy?

Unlike many liberals, I don't hold that only whites can be racists. I think anyone can be racist. It's time, if we are going to be considered equal, that we do away with double standards.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I'm wondering if I saw the same speech, Gary. I don't feel like he was defending Wright at all - at least, he wasn't defending what Wright said. His point seemed to be more of a, "What he said was bad, but there's more to this man than what he said." In other words, it's too complex of an issue for a soundbite.

He even addressed the Ferraro thing, saying (I'm going by memory here, so it's more of a gist sort of a thing) that we need to move past that as well.

If he did say that about Imus, then I agree with you there.

Gary Fouse said...

Well, everyone can something away from this speech, both his supporters and defenders. I think he basically tried to cut the baby in half.

Let's face it. If he thinks he can bridge the racial divide and bring us all together, he should have gotten up and walked out of that church the first time he heard those words.

If I heard a pastor talk in those terms about my country or about another ethnic group, I would have gotten up and walked out-and never gone back. In fact I did that in our Catholic Church (my wife is Catholic-I am Protestant) a couple of years ago when the priest read a statement from Church HQs in Sacramento that criticized the on-going payments to child abuse victims. I didn't go back.

If you are going to ever reach a reconciliation and equality, then there should be no double standards.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I'd probably do the same thing. It's a bit different though, isn't it? You said yourself that it was never your church to begin with. What about your wife? I imagine that there are a lot of Catholics who have remained in the church despite the sexual abuse scandals. Not so much because they don't condemn sexual abuse, but the church has provided them with so much that has nothing to do with that. I think that's what Obama was getting at. It wasn't speeches like that that made him a follower of Wright.

Don't get me wrong, I still think he made a mistake with having that guy be part of his campaign. I don't find it any worse though than McCain pandering to the religious right, including Robertson (who is a circus sideshow snake oil salesman of the worst sort) and the followers of the late Jerry Falwell - two "men of God" who blamed gay people for the terrorist attacks of 9/11.