Reflections On Obama's Speech

If you're watching this speech in the suburbs of Philadelphia and are an undecided voter... please let me know what you thought.

For a biracial candidate living at the cusp of a postmodern era, Barack Obama's identity has been remarkably coherent and well-contained. Rev. Jeremiah Wright's discordant rhetoric poses the first real existential threat to the "Barack Obama" who has captured the hearts and minds of so many Democratic voters -- and, perhaps more importantly, piqued the curious admiration of non-Democrats.

In his speech today, instead of casting Wright out, throwing him overboard, trying to write him off, Obama did the opposite: he incorporated Wright into Barack Obama, LLC. Wright's evolution becomes part of America's evolution, which is part of Obama's story.

In no uncertain terms did Obama renounce -- morally condemn -- the hateful, anti-Semitic, anti-American and just plain bizarre rants of his pastor -- "former pastor," as Obama now calls him. But he did not reject him. He refused to reject him. He is daring, in essence, his white liberal supporters to accept what Wright's anger represents -- a legacy of oppression -- and daring the rest of white supporters to take a leap of faith him... and asking them to expand their minds a bit and see that Wright is preaching in a tradition that has a context that is directly related to the material and spiritual conditions of all Americans.

The sell will be easier for white liberals, I think. The speech was magnificently written. It was internally consistent with Obama apparently believes.

How it plays will determine how it plays. If the media focuses more on the Wright defense-by-renouncements and then juxtaposes them with clips of Wright's comments, then I think the trouble remains. The seeds of doubt about who this guy really is may be nourished. I know that Obama believes that a discussion about race plays to his benefit, no matter what people think about white working class voters and their latent feelings. Perhaps this is the beginning of his opportunity to lift the veil and get everyone -- not just himself and the media -- to talk openly.

Problem is... so far, this is a one way conversation. It's ... well, the tiny media scrum debating Rev. Wright... and Obama preaching to the country. There's no give. There's go back and forth. A one way conversation is a lecture.

CW tells us that white voters tend to become nervous when Democrats and liberals lecture to them -- even when they lecture eloquently and respectfully -- about race. Will they, this time? What do you think?

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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