Obama’s ‘race speech’ – review round-up

March 18, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Democratic Party Presidential Primary, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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How we ended up here: as much as it might anger his supporters – and indeed all who wretch when the bar of politics set so low that a body language interpreter could be considered an expert – a theme was developing around the Senator that he just wasn’t patriotic enough. He hasn’t worn enough shit-eating smiles under banners reading ‘No One Loves America better!’, spoken fondly of flogging flag-burners or sung merrily about bombing Iran. Worse, he’s frequently spotted without the standard-issue stars n’ stripes lapel pin and his wife made some awkward statement about having never been proud of her country until her husband started winning primaries. Add this to the Muslim smears and, finally, the Jeremiah Wright controversy and it becomes clear that he’s gradually being painted not just as an unpatriotic man, nor even an unpatriotic black man, but an unpatriotic, angry black man.

I haven’t seen any footage yet, but on paper, at least, it’s a magnificent speech, and one that should fulfil both his short-term goal of drawing a line under the negative stories and his longstanding message of reconcilliation, unity and post-racial politics.

Still, don’t just take my word for it. Below are some reactions from more seasoned politics-watchers than I, both left & right, pro & con.


Andrew Sullivan:

I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.


Bill Clinton once said that everything bad in America can be rectified by what is good in America. He was right – and Obama takes that to a new level. And does it with the deepest darkest wound in this country’s history.

Matthew Yglesias:

The kind of white resentment Obama is talking about here has been a problem for the Democratic Party for decades now notwithstanding the fact that you rarely see the party nominating African-Americans to run in majority white constituencies. What Obama is showing us here is that precisely because he’s black, he’s able to acknowledge and validate these resentments in a way that would be very difficult for a white liberal politician.

At any rate, I’d say things are back on track. The Wright business had opened up a vague sliver of hope for Hillary Clinton’s campaign — if they could produce a result in Pennsylvania that looked like a Wright-induced collapse in Obama’s white support, maybe they could convince superdelegates that he’s unelectable. After this speech, I don’t see it happening.

Charles Murray (author of the Bell Curve):

Has any other major American politician ever made a speech on race that comes even close to this one? As far as I’m concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we’re used to from our pols…. But you know me. Starry-eyed Obama groupie.

Ezra Klein:

Obama could have simply preached unity and forgiveness without recognizing the realities of anger and resentment. He could have done as Mitt Romney did, and sought to protect his political vulnerabilities by picking new enemies. Obama could have made this a speech about Fox News, and divisive commentators, and right wing talkshow hosts, and sleaze artists who need to be stopped. But he didn’t. He’s betting he can universalize this experience, too, and that he’ll find more votes in unity than in division. It is, at best, a gamble. But at least it’s an honest one.

Marc Ambinder:

I do think that Obama’s speech was a marvel of contemporary political rhetoric. Politically, analytically and emotively, it hit many high notes. His acknowledgment of white working class resentments (busing) and about the perception that there’s been no racial progress, his willingness to stick by his friends, his grasp of history, his sense that our views of race are cramped and caricatured… all of that is something that even those who disagree with the substance of his speech, can, I think, appreciate.


Stanley Kurtz:

Remember when we were hearing about the need to purge Michael Moore and the MoveOn crowd from the Democratic Party? Obama is the polar opposite of all that–and in a devilishly clever way. Rather than move the Democrats away from the Michael Moores or Jeremiah Wrights, Obama buys absolution for them from the rest of the country.


Far from pulling a Hubert Humphrey or a Tony Blair and casting the radical left out of the party, Obama seems to see his job as getting the rest of the country to adopt a stance of relative complacency toward the most egregious sorts of anti-Americanism–all under the guise of achieving national unity

Roger Clegg:

It’s hard to imagine how someone who listened to this speech, and who had followed at all the controversy of the last few days, could still view Obama as somehow transcending politics. It’s a speech, and a controversy, that are predictable and dispiriting — that with minor changes one could imagine attributing to Hillary or Jesse. This is not damning, but the problem for Obama is that he had promised more, and now that’s clearly not what he’s going to deliver.


After likening black grievances over racism to white grievances over the economy, which is the Messiah’s magical, transubstantiative way of turning a racial scandal into class warfare, Jesus finally makes a cameo. Does a man who swallowed hateful bilge for two decades out of political convenience really have the balls to lecture other people on the Golden Rule? Oh yes


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