Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's That You Say? Someone Gave A Speech Today?

You've got to hand it to Senator Obama. If politics is hardball, Obama was given a high inside beanball with the Wright hubbub. Rather than ducking out of the way or dodging he appears to have swung and connected. Exactly where the ball winds up at this point is beyond me, but he's hit a deep drive that has the potential to leave the park... or simply be a very long out. I'm impressed with Obama for where he took his campaign and the nation with today's speech.

That being said, I have only seen about 1/3 of the speech, and I won't be able to catch the rest of it for several hours. So my impression thus far is mainly formed by the various reactions to the speech I'm reading around the intertubes.

When it comes to this type of event I don't like to only rely upon my favorite lefty sites to provide me with insight. By and large Huffpo, TPM, and Sullivan et al are very impressed with the speech. So I have taken the trouble to load up NRO's The Corner to get some perspective from the right side of the great political divide. I must say that the reaction to Obama's speech from the right is decidedly more muted than my favorite sites, but I am pleasantly surprised by some of the positive reactions from The Corner.

For example, here is Jonah Goldberg's first impression of the speech:
"It was a much better speech than I thought it would be. It had some lovely moments and he came across as a remarkably classy and decent guy. But I think there were some serious logical, philosophical, and political flaws to it."
Charles Murray gets a link from Sullivan by writing:
"I read the various posts here on "The Corner," mostly pretty ho-hum or critical about Obama's speech. Then I figured I'd better read the text (I tried to find a video of it, but couldn't). I've just finished. Has any other major American politician ever made a speech on race that comes even close to this one? As far as I'm concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we're used to from our pols.... But you know me. Starry-eyed Obama groupie."
This level of honest support for a Democratic speech by the regulars at The Corner is encouraging. To be sure there are more ambivalent or outright negative comments about the Obama speech than positive posts, so let me note one of the negative posts in particular. In the best spirit of partisanship which ruled the nation prior to today's Obama speech, let me present a bit of a rebuttal to a post by Kate O'Beirne titled "Common Pulpit Speech":
Obama says, "Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed." This a breathtaking attempt to pass off Wright's hateful rants by implying that they are little different than the "political views" of some priest with which a parishioner might disagree. Does he think plenty of ministers of every faith are capable of spewing Wright-like vitriol or, despite his repudiations, does he really view the comments as benign "political views" with which we're free to disagree.
I think this serves as an example of what we can expect as the standard line of attack by the right on Obama going forward... to wit Obama has not sufficiently thrown Wright off and then under the bus.

O'Beirne begins by indignantly proclaiming that Wright's offensive blather is not precisely what it really is by huffing about Obama's "breathtaking attempt to pass off Wright's hateful rants by implying that they are little different than the 'political views' of some priest with which a parishioner might disagree." All of the objectionable material I have seen by Wright may be precisely defined as radical political views with which a parishioner may disagree. I have very personal and real experience with just this type of political divide in my own family. To be sure, my in-laws and the extremely conservative members of my wife's church are not one hundredth as offensive in style as is Wright, but if I were to actually hold myself separate from people who did not hold my political take, I would be entirely shut out of my wife's side of the family. That would be my loss (and perhaps the in-law's gain actually*snark*). It is telling for me that a large swath of conservative fundamentalists have interwarped their spiritual lives with a right wing political outlook, and expect the rest of the flock to hold like views or be separated.

Barack Obama is the living embodiment of what he stands for. In calling for national unity and a voice for all perspectives he rejects the fundamental outlook held by O'Beirne. Rather than separate himself from that which he finds politically offensive Obama only rejects what offends him, but embraces what he finds to be good in Wright. Rejecting the offensive statements time and again in no uncertain terms is the most we can expect from Obama if he is to remain true to his own ideals.

If one is to believe that Obama secretly harbors the beliefs expressed by Wright it is incumbent upon his accusers to show us the proof. Is it to be found in his writings? In his speeches or how he has raised a family... or maybe his voting record? Show us the proof of the fiery, racially divisive, figurative bomb thrower which is supposed to scare us into voting for the other candidate. I contend there is no there there. There is only a man living the very ideals he calls upon the rest of us to follow.

I have no doubt that O'Beirne and a very large segment of the American populace would find the Sunday services at Trinity to be unbearable, if only because of the occasional radical political rant. That is fine for them, but it's not fair to expect Obama to take the approach which he expressly calls the nation to turn away from: the approach which has us grouped into like minded clusters of polarized voting blocs.

Man... all of that on the very first O'Beirne sentence and I feel like I'm just getting warmed up!

O'Beirne wraps up her take with the following sentiment, which I find a bit puzzling to be honest with you. "[D]oes he (Obama) really view the comments as benign "political views" with which we're free to disagree." I am left wondering exactly what else can the Wright rantings be? I suppose the qualification of Wright's political views as benign in that sentence may be intended to somehow define Obama as trying to lessen the truly damaging meaning of the statements. But Obama has made clear, repeatedly, that he rejects those statements. Nearly by definition we can determine that Obama did not find the sentiments to be benign else he would not have felt it necessary to condemn and renounce them.

The way O'Beirne uses the word benign in that sentence, though, leads me to conclude that she is wondering if Obama considers the statements as simple political speech, which of itself is a benign activity in American society even if the content of the speech is offensive. If that reading of the final O'Beirne sentence holds true, one must wonder what else the statements by Wright could be mistaken for than benign political views? Is it some sort of criminal speech? Maybe the right will reverse a long tradition and start calling for the punishment of offensive political expressions as hate speech. It seems to me that allowing for the sentiments of Wright to be heard, offensive as those notions are to most of the nation, defines the real meaning of the phrase "freedom of expression." What could possibly be more patriotic than affirming that fundamental principle which forms the veritable cornerstone upon which this nation was founded?

Obama's speech was a masterful display of speechwriting. He is really good at that. He pointed out that all races have reason to feel unfairly treated, but that we need to get past it and get on with life.

What I disagree with is the leftist ideas he started throwing in. And I couldn't see any logical connection between Ashley's story and the rest of his speech. Maybe you can enlighten me on that.
I think there are two aspects of the Ashley story which could serve as reasons for Obama end the speech with it.

1: His campaign was a bit shaken after several days of Wright centered bombshells. The Ashley anectdote was Obama tossing them kudos and encouraging them to keep up the good work.

2: For the wider audience, the moral of the story demonstrates the bridging of the racial divide between two total strangers. What brings them together is a mutual concern in working for the betterment of society. For the wizened old black staffer to cite a total stranger, who is also white, whose circumstance demonstrates the need for change as the reason he is working for that change does tug at the heartstrings of all of us in some small measure.

3: On an even more basic level this anectdote shows a black man who is working to make life easier for a white woman. The symbolic imagry associated between these two demographics through out American history is well known. Even now the symbolism of the white woman and the black man joining forces behind Obama must send a message to America as a whole, and the Democratic party in particular.

Then again, maybe I've over analized this. But that is sort of what you asked for!
erm.. make that three aspects! Once I started rolling I really started rolling... :P
Actually, I think that when the black guy said he was there because of Ashley, he meant that he came because Ashley asked him to help Obama. Not because of a white woman's circumstances or needs. But you're probably right that Obama wanted everyone to think that it was because of the reasons you gave.

Thanks for giving me another viewpoint.
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