Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Obama speech: Tackling the pastor's diatribes while seeking a dialogue

The much anticipated speech by Barack Obama, addressing the past controversial comments of his former Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was delivered on Tuesday morning.

Obama made his speech in the same city that the American Constitution was created, not far from where the orignal framers put their pens to paper. And Obama's speech like that famed political document, was in itself a most unique political document, heartfelt in its approach and historical in its nature.

A 35 minute or so finely crafted examination of race relations in America, a dialogue between the races in America, one which condemned the comments of a close spiritual guide, yet did not disown him.

In fact, Obama took the challenge of race and made it much more than an election issue, he made it a self-examination of the soul of Americans, Black and White, Hispanic and otherwise. Asking them to look beyond the television footage and endless YouTube viewings of the more contentious words of a religious leader and instead look into the things that divide, seeking the common ground to heal and build a better America.

While most politicians might have looked to throw the Reverend under the bus, for political expediency, Obama did not. In fact, he showed the loyalty of someone who while troubled by his hurtful and angry words, has found much good in the many years that he has known his pastor. A man he feels as close to as his own white Grandmother and the man who introduced him to Christianity, who officiated at his marriage and baptized the Obama children.

This provides a measure of the man seeking to claim the nomination of the Democratic Party, while he completely disavowed those incendiary comments now made famous on endless television shows and linked by thousands of bloggers, he instead asked for consideration of the atmosphere in America that made such comments possible.

The sense of disenfranchisement that many in the Black or Hispanic communities feel, the equally frustrated expressions from a white community fearful of their neighbours, trapped with their own misguided thoughts or words and worried of changes that they live with in a changing world but don’t understand.

For many political observers it was the perfect discussion, a mature and rational dissection of the elements of the controversy, while at the same time seeking out a solution to long standing differences. The sense of distance that rarely if ever is discussed, let alone subjected to a little soul searching.

His words as would be expected were measured and effective, his delivery with just the right tone and sense of personal history and honesty was a riveting display of a politician who can take an explosive issue and offer his audience the tools for understanding and empathy.

There’s no doubt that the comments from his pastor will prove to be costly, those with suspicions of Obama will remain suspicious, though truth be told they probably were never for the turning anyways.

But for those wishing to learn more about him, still searching for answers, it was a lesson that should more than fill their thirst. For the critics who claim he was of little substance, this speech more than declares that argument finished.

Obama tackled one of the largest elephants in the political room and by treating his audience as adults, ready to hear and think of things that rarely get discussed, he will be commended.

Tim Rutten of the LA Times says that the speech was Obama’s Lincoln moment, the Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy was equally descriptive when he declared that: Invited to wrestle in a Racial Mud Pit, Obama Soars Above It

Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball described it as one of the most important speeches on race in decades, putting it on a parallel path with the Reverend Martin Luther King.

Matthews has already identified himself as impressed by the Senator from Illinois, and his comments are just a wee bit hyperbolic perhaps. For Dr. King’s speeches were legendary; moving in their words of injustice and a quest for equality and made even more forceful by the events of history.

But Matthews is not far off the mark with his praise of the Obama speech, it was refreshing in its appeal for a dialogue, instead of a commitment to damage control.

Politics being as they are, a good portion of the right, in the media and the blogosphere, is unimpressed and even hostile to the day’s development; there was however some praise from some unexpected corners of the political universe.

From the normally Republican viewpoint of Joe Scarborough the term historic was used, Time magazine called it a bold gamble on race.

Tuesday’s speech surely gives the American electorate both Democrat and Republican another view of what makes him tick. With the speech, he’s managed to return his campaign to the main issues of what are important to America, including an examination of how they look at each other.

This was not your normal political speech, instead it was a discussion that attempted to transcend race, transcend politics as usual. It was a refreshing examination of a troublesome issue in America, taken head on, without weasel words or platitudes, in short it showed leadership. Which we think is something that America is looking for in this election year.

Obama may not win his party’s nomination, and if he does he might not succeed in a General election. But he’s shown today, that he’s not afraid to address controversy and offer solutions and seek out dialogue.

We soon will find out if more than those that are already converted will join him for those discussions.

Text of the Obama speech
Some of the reaction following the delivery of Tuesday's speech:

Chicago Tribune--Obama calls for racial healing
Chicago Sun-Times--'America can change': Obama
Boston Globe--Obama's history, and America's
Arizona Republic--Obama's shining moment
San Francisco Chronicle--Obama speech confronts America's racial divide
Wall Stree Journal--Discovering Obama
Los Angeles Times--Obama's Lincoln moment
Washington Post--Invited to Wrestle in a Racial Mud Pit, Obama Soars Above It
Washington Post--A speech that fell short
New York Times--Black, White and Gray
New York Times--An Effort to Bridge a Divide
US News and World Report--Obama's Race Speech Heralded as Historic
TIME--Obama's Bold Gamble on Race
Newsweek--Ringing the Bell
Globe and Mail--A powerful testament, an enormous risk

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