PavCo Multimedia Synergistics Weblog

March 20, 2008

The Speech

Filed under: General,Politics — CPav @ 5:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Barack Obama gave a speech two days ago. Going in to the speech, it was being compared to Mitt Romney’s speech not too long ago in which he opened up on his Mormonism, or, for those with longer memories, John F. Kennedy’s campaign speech in which he explained to a group of Southern ministers that a vote for him would not be the same as turning the White House over to the Pope.

Since the world has moved on a few news cycles since then, a quick summary: Video hit the interwebs showing Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s beloved pastor, the man he credits for bringing him to Christ, in a number of sermons which are critical of the U.S. government and white people in general. Excuse me. It was later qualified that he wasn’t railing against whites, but rather rich whites. The candidate, who had previously asked his pastor not to appear at the news conference announcing his candidacy, went on television repeatedly, repudiating the comments but refusing to denounce the man.

This set the stage for Obama’s speech on Tuesday. There was speculation that he would address the role of religion in his life, or racism. What he did was practically transcendent.

I am too young to remember Kennedy’s Catholicism speech, but I’ve been exposed to enough history to remember his “Ask not what your country can do for you…” inaugural speech, and my first reaction to reading Obama’s speech (I was at work, and did not have the opportunity to listen to it at the time), was to compare it to that speech. As a low-level politician myself, and someone with some small facility with words, I was blown away by Obama’s speech.

It’s very safe, easy, and non-controversial to denounce racism. Most people would say that judging someone simply by the color of their skin or their country of origin is a bad thing. Of course, a number of those same people would gladly tell you how are stealing all the good jobs, or get all the breaks.

In his speech, Obama touched briefly on Reverend Wright’s comments, and put them in a historical context, that of a person who had lived through the era of the Civil Rights movement, as well as the injustices which had preceded it, and who still bears the anger that many of that generation do. Senator Obama also offered the observation that this anger was justified. And that statement could have ended his candidacy, or relegated him to the status of “black candidate”, one who justifies the anger of black Americans against white.

But he didn’t stop there. With his next breath, Obama gave almost the same historical context and understanding for the feeling of frustration and betrayal of lower and middle-class white voters, voters who have never themselves repressed others, but who see advantages and opportunities granted to those others, who see jobs going away.

In this single, brilliant move, Barack Obama has established himself in both camps, and again, it could have ended, with him making the case that he can understand the feelings of both black and white voters who see themselves as wronged or disenfranchised, but his point made, he went one step further still, recalling Kennedy’s challenge to the nation and call to action. He calls on the American people to make a choice: Whether we will focus on all of the slights and innuendo and speculation that divide us, or on the common concerns that unite us. If we choose the latter, he says, then in the next election we will simply focus on another, no-more-consequential distraction, and on and on, in a never-ending cycle. If, however, we unite around our common issues and begin the discussion here, it can continue on into the future.

From the linguistic point of view, I was impressed with the turn of phrase that Obama repeatedly returned to, the idea of the struggle toward perfection of the Union. He started out with the beginning of the Declaration of Independence: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” He pointed out that the Declaration did not create a perfect union, and that intervening generations struggled toward filling in the gaps, as we do now. He referred to his own campaign as “imperfect”, and spoke of “perfect[ing] our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes…” And, at the conclusion of his final anecdote, about an old black man and a young white girl who came together on his campaign, he observed that “…that is where the perfection begins.”

The full text of Senator Obama’s speech is available at CNN.

Time Magazine’s analysis is here.

And my friend Mike Wallack chimes in with his observations in his blog.

The 300 Project: 11/52

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1 Comment »

  1. […] diffuse the issue, but to take the discussion to a new level.  I commented on the speech in a previous post, and St. Louis columnist Kevin Horrigan has an interesting column on the Post Dispatch website […]

    Pingback by Let’s Go to the Tape « PavCo Multimedia Synergistics Weblog — March 30, 2008 @ 11:41 pm | Reply


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