Obama's Speech (II)


It had its imperfections, yet for all that I think Charles Murray makes the crucial point: Can you think of a better speech on race in America delivered recently by any politician, black or white? Of course John Derbyshire is right that Obama’s vision of how America ought to transcend our racial divisions is essentially left-wing, with whites and blacks joining hands to raise taxes and government spending, while uniting against their common enemy, the wicked axis of corporations, lobbyists and special interests. But Obama’s candidacy is essentially left-wing; he’s attempting to be a liberal Reagan, not a difference-splitter like Bill Clinton, and I think our political moment is tilting sufficiently leftward that he might just succeed. Certainly, I would have liked to see him talk more than he did about what America has achieved over the past thirty years, rather than pivoting so quickly to how much remains to be done. This speech of all speeches could have done with a little more pure “God bless America” chest-thumping, and a little less of what Andrew Ferguson has memorably described as the Obama style of “optimistic despair," in which "America is a fetid sewer whose most glorious days lie just ahead, thanks to the endless ranks of pathetic losers who make it a beacon of hope to all mankind." But this is a conservative's quibble about a liberal politician's address; it's my way of saying "I wish Barack Obama were a little less left-wing," and it doesn't detract from the speech's overall impressiveness.

I do think the problem Jeremiah Wright creates for Obama's campaign remains unresolved, to some extent, since there was nothing Obama could say in a single speech that would undo the perception created by his long affiliation with Wright and his church - the perception that he’s only confronting what’s wrong with Wright’s style of black politics because the media narrative is forcing him too, and that when the spotlight isn’t on him, he’s more interested in fitting in and feeling comfortable than in, well, speaking truth to power. But by using the Wright controversy as an opportunity to play up their candidate's strengths - as an orator, but more importantly as the rare politician who can deliver a thoughtful, nuanced speech and make you feel like he means it - the Obama campaign made some sweet-tasting lemonade out of some awfully sour lemons.

Photo by Flickr user Daniella Zalcman used under a Creative Commons license.