Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's pastor speech

It's already been beaten to death, yet he only made the speech today. I didn't hear what Barack Obama had to say, but I read it.

I may read it again, but I'm not sure this speech is going to accomplish what Obama wants. Obama will be slated because he didn't disown the pastor of his church, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Yet, I admire him for not disowning this man and there are parts of the speech I like (and parts I don't like).

What I don't like is all that easy corporate-America-bashing, the repetitive health-care refrain or even the (brief) reference to the "war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged". I know it's politics, but I had thought this speech would be different and devoid of such boilerplate. And I really didn't like his attempt to link Geraldine Ferraro's recent remarks to what the Reverend Wright has said.

I like the fact that Obama believes in families and that "welfare policies for many years may have worsened" the position of black families. But, what I really like is Obama's refusal to disown this man who "has been like family to me". Reverend Wright has views on race that, it seems clear to me, Obama doesn't share. Case closed. Reverend Wright's not on the ballot paper so what do I care? It's Obama's views that matter. He judges Wright on everything he knows about him and not just on the remarks that have been in the media lately.

Obama has touched on race in a real way, in a way that the media (and most politicians) run a mile from today. He's saying that you don't have to turn on family and close friends who express views and ideas that you don't hold. He also says:
[n]ot 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.
Even those who say stupid, racist things can be redeemed (at least somewhat) by the way they interact with people of other races. And let's face it, for most of us what we do is far more important than what we think or say.

And, lastly, I like the fact that Obama acknowledges that poor white people don't feel privileged by their race.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. … So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
If Obama wasn't running for President he would never have made this speech and/or nobody would have cared. Yet, because he's running for President he has tried to tie it in with some standard campaign themes, which weakens the thrust of what he has to say.

The core of what he's saying about race - let's be real, things are improving, but we're not there yet and let's judge individuals by the totality of who they are and that white people have some understandable resentments - is a message for all of America. It's almost a shame he has to run for President to be heard. It would be better if he could travel the nation speaking, debating others and working to get this 'real' discussion on race going.