Obama's Speech (III)

I'd like to associate myself with Jay Cost's characteristically thoughtful take on the speech - both his praise for it, and his reservations. Here's the key passage:

My concern with the speech is the following. I am not sure what I think about Obama's claim that he never heard Wright make incendiary comments. I think that hinges on the definition of "incendiary." More importantly, I have always thought this was a moot point. Incendiary comments make for great television - but the bigger concern, especially for somebody as smart as Obama, is the philosophy that undergirds them. Obama clearly understands Wright's philosophy - even if he never heard Wright say what has generated this firestorm. If nothing else, yesterday he contextualized Wright into the broader narrative of the American racial division. He would not have been able to do that so ably if he had only learned about this philosophy last week.

This philosophy is divisive, and Obama was aware of it even if he had not heard its most extreme articulations. At the same time, this philosophy is clearly not the core mission of Trinity United Church of Christ. Jeremiah Wright does not wake up every morning dedicated to dividing people. However, the antipode of this divisiveness is the core mission of Barack Obama. He wakes up every morning dedicated to uniting people. This is why Obama thinks Wright is not just wrong, but "profoundly" wrong. Wright's divisiveness constitutes a grievous mistake on what Obama takes to be the central question of American identity - are we one people or are we not?

Accordingly, this inclines me to ask what Obama did about this profound philosophical error. He has been a parishioner for twenty years, and he has been a strong believer in this philosophy of unity for at least four years, since his keynote address in 2004. I appreciate that he cannot walk away from Trinity because the church speaks to who he is. However, I must ask whether he worked to persuade Wright and the parishioners who applauded so jubilantly at his divisive words that they were wrong on a matter of existential importance. If he did, what was the consequence of those efforts? Did he succeed in bringing about change at Trinity?

... The essential problem of the speech is that it gives no answer to these queries.



Read the whole thing.