Barack Obama delivered an eloquent and compelling speech today in Philadelphia about race in America and its underlying historical roots and complexities, and noted the understandable tendency to demonize others for our woes. Barack voiced the belief that the “union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.” Barack pointed to his own candidacy and the millions who have supported him as proof of the country’s racial progress over the last half century and our ability to change. Finally he acknowledged the underlying reality that fuels the hate-mongering of the Geraldine Ferraros and Rev. Wrights of this world, but contended that we need to understand their worldview and work on the underlying situation rather than simply either ignore these type of individuals or refuse to understand those who differ with us on racial issues.
Barack distanced himself from Wright’s off-putting comments calling them “not only wrong but divisive”. But by refusing to simply discard and disavow any relationship with Rev. Wright, it evinced a higher level of moral and political courage. Moreover, Barack sought to show the complexities of individuals, be it Reverend Wright or Barack’s white grandmother; unlike Hollywood’s two-dimensional and either good or evil characters, Barack pointed out that in many a relationship you can simultaneously admire some traits while strongly disagreeing with others (e.g., his white grandmother’s negative comments about black men!).
And perhaps most amazing, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic is reporting that Barack wrote the 45 min. eloquent speech by himself (with basically no involvement of speech writers), an extremely rare event in modern American politics.
You can read the transcript of Barack’s speech on race here.
Others’ comments: The NYT editorial “Mr. Obama’s Profile in Courage” noted that Barack’s speech had the rare power to take this conversation about race and religion to a higher plane and Maureen Dowd praised Barack for failing to pander to others the way Mitt Romney did in his religion speech. John Dickerson on Slate finds the inclusion of Geraldine Ferraro not once, but twice in the speech a jarring note that cheapened Barack’s address and took the conversation from the soaring heights down to street level by trying to score political points when Rev. Wright’s and Geraldine Ferraro’s comments couldn’t be seen as parallel. A Washington Post editorial said he turned the concerns about Wright into a “teachable moment” about race. And the L.A. Times editorial said it “redefines our national conversation about race and politics” and as a serious discussion of race, was a rare moment in U.S. politics. Even conservative Charles Murray, of National Review Online gave it a rave: “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.”