As is always the case with me for any speech, especially an Obama speech, I’ve opted to read it, not listen to it, so that I can have the best sense of the words themselves, without getting sidelined by someone’s rhetorical style (or lack thereof).
Obama opens by talking about the promise of the new nation’s belief systems, which were compromised by slavery — an accurate assessment. Interestingly, he makes only passing mention of the Civil War, in which hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives so that blacks could be free. As for me, I’ve always seen the Civil War as part of American exceptionalism. We may make mistakes, but we corrected that one with a bloody vengeance.
I also find interesting that Obama, immediately after referring to the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, frames his candidacy’s purpose as being a part of this civil rights framework:
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
To me, this is part of the Messiah shtick. He’s not advancing himself as President because he’s the best man for the job, but because he, personally, by being some racial fulfillment incarnate, will save us from the last remaining “stains” created by the Founders. I found the preceding paragraph both banal in its phrasing and rather worrying in its implication.
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
He presents himself as the personal embodiment of American racial healing, an idea I find creepy. It’s that personal embodiment shtick that tells me this man takes himself way too seriously.
Obama points correctly to the fact that he’s been tagged as both too black and not black enough. It’s an interesting point because, inadvertently, it highlights that the obsession within the Democratic community has been with his race and not with his substantive virtues: experienced enough? too little experience? too liberal? just liberal enough? too corrupt? no more corrupt than the ordinary politician? less corrupt than Hillary? With the focus on race, no one’s been asking the questions that ought to be asked.
Funnily enough, after twice having set himself up as the living embodiment of racial healing — something he’s done throughout the campaign, along with those vague calls for “unity” — Obama complains that his campaign has been framed in terms of racial healing:
On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.
Obama also claims that, in the past few days, he condemned in unequivocal terms Wright’s more controversial statements. As this blog and others have pointed out, that’s not true. He’s condemned them in very careful, lawyerly terms, all the while trying to disassociate himself from a man with whom he’s had a long and close relationship. His condemnations have been artful, but hardly unequivocal. He also hasn’t condemned his wife for making more polite statements that are remarkably close in content to Wright’s intemperately worded attacks on the US.
There’s also some very careful lawyerly language in the next paragraph:
For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. (Emphasis mine.)
The question is how did Obama handle these disagreements. Did he, in his own head, say to himself, “Well, I don’t agree with that.” Or did he do more — something he carefully doesn’t answer. Did he challenge Wright in private? He doesn’t say. Did Obama, a public figure, challenge Wright in public? Well, we know he didn’t. Did Obama, a sitting state and federal Senator, publicly disassociate himself from one who prays for America’s destruction? Not only did he not do so, he had Wright as a core member of his campaign team up until last week, when the guy was conveniently flushed down the memory hole. Obama’s “disagreements” can’t have been that strong. He’s lying.
At least Obama makes a straight and true declaration here:
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
I agree with everything that Obama says in the preceding paragraph.
Obama goes on to defend Wright, noting that there is a lot of good along with his tendency to make inflammatory, divisive, cruel, un-American statements. That doesn’t work for me. People with horribly bad ideas can nevertheless have very nice qualities. A KKK-er can be a loving family man and a stalwart of the community, bringing food to the (white) poor. A robber can be a great buddy, and fun to have beer with. At a certain point, though, if someone has true, broad-reaching ideological flaws, you have to take a stand and either say that you agree with or that you don’t agree with those statements. You have to ignore the fact that your friend is charming, or kind, or decent in ways unrelated to this moral center. This holds especially true for someone who, as a US Senator, has sworn allegiance to the United States of America. It’s one thing to recognize ones country’s flaws and to work to improve them. It is quite another thing to make common cause with a religious man who seeks the country’s eternal damnation. One could say that in speech Obama is making precisely the stand I demand (I wouldn’t say it, but one could), but it’s telling that he’s doing so only under duress and when the scrutiny on his 22 year relationship with Wright is becoming too intense to ignore.
Obama’s most important point is his acknowledgment that the black community has within it this radically anti-American strain:
Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
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.
The passage above is also interesting because it contains some typical Obamanations. There’s again that careful disassociation where he notes that, when he talked to Wright, Wright never said anything nasty, as if that removes Wright from the taint of having said such things publicly, where they really count, or removes from Obama the responsibility for being aware of Wright’s views, given how publicly they were stated.
In the same passage, Obama also makes the wonderfully silly statement he can’t disown Wright’s bad views any more than he can disown his white grandmother. That’s utterly stupid. First, he can easily disassociate himself from both. That he doesn’t want to is one thing; that he allegedly can’t is another. Second, his grandmother is a genetic relative and did indeed raise him — and doesn’t seem to have said anything inflammatory about anyone.* Wright is a voluntary association. Third, within this voluntary association, Obama has embraced Wright from top to bottom and manifestly has made no effort to temper what Obama now acknowledges are some bad, destructive and dangerous attitudes that run directly counter to the lovey-dovey speeches Obama has been showering on America for the past year. Obama can disassociate himself from Wright, and always could have done so. He just didn’t want to before.
I found the rest of the speech painfully dull, and don’t want to comment on it anymore. (And I’m sure you don’t want to read anymore comments.) I was turned off by the stuff about cycles of violence and victimhood, all of which don’t work for me (as you know if you’ve read my blog for any length of time). Other immigrant groups have come to America and faced abysmal poverty, vicious discrimination and economic, social and physical abuse, but their travails preceded the culture of victimhood. This had meant that, when things improved, they just got on with it.
I don’t mean by the preceding to denigrate the Black experience in America. It was awful, it was degrading, it was dehumanizing, it was demoralizing, it was abusive, it was unforgivably long-lasting — it was everything that should not happen in a civil, or even marginally civil society. But having said that, it is insane for blacks to hoard the insults of the past in such a way that they are incapable of moving into the future. The last part of Obama’s speech, however, in true liberal fashion, gives them permission to do so — and that operates to their detriment (and his political benefit).
(I’d like to remind you here, as I have before, to read John McWhorter’s book, Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America, which describes the fact that African-Americans after the Civil War were continuously improving their status, as all victim groups have once the worst of the victimization ended, a trajectory that could have been anticipated to have continued with the Civil Rights movement. The self-destruction of the black community, a downward trend that, in some sectors, continues today, coincided precisely with the welfare, victim culture that liberals visited upon blacks immediately in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, and that Obama clearly hopes to keep alive today.)
As for me, I continue to find the man platitudinous, self-involved, evasive, manipulative and I don’t agree with his politics. I am no more impressed with him now than I was before his “historic” speech. If you want a self-styled Messiah who works the ultra-liberal party line, he’s your man. If you want a grounded, experienced politician who is not ultra-liberal, and who doesn’t hang around with, make excuses for and take advice from people who loath you and loath America, you might want to look elsewhere.
*On the point of whether Granny Obama was inflammatory when professing a fear of meeting black men on the street, please read this.