This is meant as a wrap-up of reaction to Obama’s speech on racism. From now on, I hope to focus on other issues, other ideas.
That speech has taken on a life of its own, and deservedly. As Scott Horton says, quoted below, “It is the sole extraordinary moment of this entire campaign.”
By way of setting the stage — stacking the deck might be a more candid metaphor — here’s a quote from a reply to the speech by conservative pundit and one-time Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan.
America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.
I must admit, I never thought of it that way before. Black “folks” might never have known Christian salvation if their ancestors hadn’t been captured in Africa and brought here as slaves. We could call it “vigorous conversion,” the first phase of compassionate conservatism.
Praise Jesus, brothers and sisters, praise Jesus.
Let us leave Mr. B. to his troglodytic musings, and edge toward the left side of the page. Here’s part of a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Peggy Noonan, who was Ronald Reagan’s speech writer. She’s as even-handed as you can get on the editorial page of WSJ.
I thought Barack Obama’s speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that’s what he wanted, and this is rare.
Noonan had more good things — and a few bad — to say about the speech, some of which are quoted by or are implicit in this column by Scott Horton of Harper’s, which brings us to the left side of the page.
The punditry today increasingly is a pumpkin patch. It’s filled with intellects of an exceptionally low wattage. In fact the cable networks have developed a predilection for clinical chatterboxes—people who can fill the silence with noise, without much concern for its worth. And most of them follow a simple agenda of carping at and attacking the political figures who oppose their political turf. This has proven a frightful degeneracy for political dialogue in this country, which, more than ever, needs to be squarely engaged with the major issues that the country faces. Race relations is indeed one of those issues. The hyperbolic sermons of a retired pastor, the misstatements of campaign surrogates, the bigotry of ministers who have endorsed a candidate are terribly peripheral.
As comedian Jon Stewart put it, “Obama spoke to us. . . as adults.” It’s something we’re not used to. Noonan makes precisely this point. “The primary rhetorical virtue of the speech can be found in two words, endemic and Faulkner. Endemic is the kind of word political consultants don’t let politicians use because 72% of Americans don’t understand it. . . As for Faulkner — well, this was an American politician quoting William Faulkner: ‘The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.’ This is a thought, an interesting one, which means most current politicians would never share it.”
Obama reflects confidence, not doubt, in the nation’s ability to surmount its woes and reclaim a position of moral authority and leadership among nations. His criticism is targeted at the current political leadership, not at the nation. Still, Noonan’s criticism expresses a fundamental truth about the American self-perception and the need for any successful leader to craft a message in which the reaffirming overwhelms the critical. Taken as a whole, Obama’s speech accomplishes that. It is the sole extraordinary moment of this entire campaign.
Other aspects of the speech were taken up by E. J. Dionne, at the Washington Post, who emphasizes Obama’s argument that blacks and whites need to stop talking to themselves, and talk to each other.
The man who, by parentage, is half black and half white took it upon himself to explain each side’s story to the other. Obama resembled no one so much as the conciliatory sibling in a large and boisterous family shouting: “Please, please, will you listen to each other for a sec?”
One of the least remarked upon passages in Obama’s speech is also one of the most important—and the part most relevant to the Wright controversy. There is, Obama said, a powerful anger in the black community rooted in “memories of humiliation and doubt” that “may not get expressed in public, in front of white coworkers or white friends” but “does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. … And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.”
Yes, black people say things about our country and its injustices to each other that they don’t say to those of us who are white. Whites also say things about blacks privately that they don’t say in front of their black friends or associates.
There is more I planned to post here, but for some reason, WordPress right now won’t recognize the code. For now, that’s it. I’ll have more to say on this topic, but for the immediate future, there are other dragons to slay.