I’ve watched the speech again in its entirety and I am more blown away by it than I was the first time around.
There are few political speeches in the last 50 years that are its equal and fewer still that are superior to it. One is left to think of RFK’s speech on the back of a truck in Indianapolis in 1968 telling the city that King was dead or of Rep. Barbara Jordan’s opening statement in the Nixon impeachment hearings or of King’s Dream speech or of Reagan at the Wall.
It was a speech of profound respect for America and for Americans. It didn’t try and sound bite its way around dicey issues, it didn’t try and spin its way out of trouble. Instead it paid tribute to its audience by treating the audience as grown men and women capable of understanding and appreciating a nuanced argument on a controversial and divisive issue.
Ironically this very fact may lead to short term political tribulation for Sen. Obama. It was a hard speech to synthesize for the evening news and for newspapers and for bloggers. No sound bite, taken alone was representative of the speech as a whole.
To wit, one of the quotes that has appeared in many stories is the one in which he said he could no more disown Rev. Wright than he could disown the black community. Without the benefit of context that sounds like a fairly incendiary remark.
But read the context:
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.
It is a stunning section of oratory. This liberal black politician is saying yes, there is cruelty and shocking ignorance and bitterness and bias not only in his church but in the black community. This is something that conservatives have been chiding liberal politicians about for years and here Obama is saying it.
The speech must be seen in full or read in full to really appreciate its genius. If you haven’t done so, take the time and watch. If you have, watch again because you will probably have to wait a very, very long time to hear anything like it ever again.
A note here. I do not write this as an Obama partisan. There is much, much that I admire about him. I love the campaign that he is running. I love how he is inspiring once apathetic kids to get involved. I love his vision for a united states of America.
But there is much about him that I do not like. I am, at the end of the day, a conservative and he is a liberal and there are lots of policies differences between us. I fail to understand, for instance, how a man who wants to unite could have been one of the few people to vote against banning partial-birth abortions.
I am also gravely concerned about the exploitation of faith for political ends. It is no more admirable in Barack Obama than it is in George W. Bush.
I say this to emphasize my estimation of the speech. It was that good. He is that good. I just hope the rest of America – including the media – is up to the challenge he laid out today… a challenge to have a real dialogue about the things that ail us.