Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dissecting "The Speech".

Here we go. As a disclaimer, we note that our focus is criticism of particular ideas that Obama put forth, since the MSM has already provided laudes in megatons. We also leave out rhetorical boilerplate (denoted by "..."):


The document they [The Founders] produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least 20 more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States.

What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part -- through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience, and always at great risk -- to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.


I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction: toward a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

And it would be nice remind the audience that we do have a common bond - we are Americans...non-hyphenated Americans - first.


It's a story [Obama's biography] that hasn't made me the most conventional of candidates. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts -- that out of many, we are truly one.

Good - E Pluribus Unum.


This is not to say that race has not been an issue in this campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every single exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well. And yet, it's only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

Questions about Obama's true beliefs on particular hate speech is not divisive, it's an important exercise in the vetting of a presidential candidate. And when you poll 90% of the electorate in a particular racial group, then isn't race clearly an issue in the campaign? Isn't there something going on?

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wild- and wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.

Huh? What one has "heard" is a great reluctance to ignore the rhetoric and to evaluate Obama's qualifications and credentials to be President. This is a strawman set up to make Wright merely part of the spectrum of acceptable thought.

On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy, and in some cases, pain. For some, nagging questions remain: Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. 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 disagree.

Ahem...we're talking about an order-of-magnitude difference in the persistent virulence and perniciousness of Rev. Wright's remarks and what a run-of-the-mill clergy may utter in an occasional remark. You also claimed just a few days earlier that you never heard Wright's remarks in person...

The next two paragraphs are esssential in this speech:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems -- two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change, problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

The preceeding two paragraphs would have been nearly sufficient to address the Wright issue, but Obama apparently can't help himself and undercuts it all with the following:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets and YouTube, if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

This is an attempt to trivialize the statements of Rev. Wright that have been made public, and isolating them from the context of a decades-long movement that Wright has been part of that has been criticized as being separatist. Obama knows that Wright's rants are not just an occasional deviation, but a standard doctrine of this movement. And as Newt Gingrinch has observed, this dogma goes beyond this separatist movement and is embraced as the understanding of "The Real America" by the Hard Left.

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine, and who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who over 30 years has led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth -- by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Most of these observations about Wright are nice, but irrelevant to the controversy; likewise George Wallace at his political highwater was in some ways a passionate and thoughtful populist. Up to this point, Obama has never publicly repudiated or reprimanded Dr. Wright for any of his bombastic remarks, when it would have risked great political damage, and now has only done so when coerced and when it would have caused greater political damage to ignore them.


Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing and clapping and screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America. And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children.

Not 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. He contains within him the contradictions -- the good and the bad -- of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

More "George Wallace" defense.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love.

No, Wright is not family - you don't choose your family, but you do choose your associates, and you are running for President of the United States. Nor did your grandmother help to publicly dissemenate some very nasty ideas. And what does it say about you that you will so publicly throw your own grandmother overboard in this manner?

Now, some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. And I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro in the aftermath of her recent statements as harboring some deep-seated bias.

No, no, no - the politically safe thing to do is to lay down a smokescreen. Isn't the Ferraro comment pretty much a "you do it, too!" retort?

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America: to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality. The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through, a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past."
We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country.

But now Obama will recite them anyway.

But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African-American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools. We still haven't fixed them, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education. And the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

And after forty years of breathtaking concentration of federal power to control public education and the spending of hundreds of billions of federal dollars, public education is now worse than before. As is being shown with magnet and charter schools in inner cities, racism is not the obstacle to student achievement, it is the lack of accountability and competence in public school instruction and administration. The rot in public education extends beyond the inner cities and transcends racial groups, and for the same reasons.

Legalized discrimination, where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire department meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between blacks and whites and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persist in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family contributed to the erosion of black families, a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods -- parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up, building code enforcement -- all help create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continues to haunt us.

Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams, and Ward Connerly would vehemently differ with this unified theory of the decline of black families and communities. Are their opinions worth a mention here as illustrating the diversity of black social thought? No, Obama's theorizing here is the standard leftist boilerplate. This is not an evenhanded survey of the issue of race, this is an advocacy speech for the Left's view of the problem and their standard solutions. If we really want an objective summary of race issues we must include other these points of view - which are usually supressed because they don't parrot the Left's dogma.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African- Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late '50s and early '60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it -- those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations -- those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future.

So the fault for the catastrophic problems that cripple today's black communities, such as the huge unemployment rate among young black men, the runaway rate of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the drugs and violence - is that the parents were screwed? Where is personal responsibility in all of this?

Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their world view in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co- workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians to gin up votes along racial lines or to make up for a politician's own failings. And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.

Yet when one maps this type of expression onto other groups or spokesmen, it becomes intolerable, such as the declamations of Falwell and Robertson about God's vengenence on America for ungodly behavior. Isn't it sauce for the gander as well?

That anger is not always productive. Indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems. It keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity within the African-American community in our condition, it prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real, it is powerful, and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

The inference from this passage is that identity groups have license to advocate hateful ideas in the public square that others do not possess.

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 handed them anything, they built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

"Blame the Man" rhetoric . And Lester Thurow's "Zero-Sum Economy" makes a comeback...

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 prejudice, resentment builds over time. Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Ugly Racist Talk by Whites = Reaganism.

And just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze: a corporate culture rife with inside dealing and questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns, this, too, widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.

This is old and tired class warfare rhetoric: it's the rich and privledged that hold both black and white poor down, and the Man uses racism to pit the poor white against the poor black.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. And contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle or with a single candidate, particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction, a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people, that, working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds and that, in fact, we have no choice -- we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life.

But it also means binding our particular grievances, for better health care and better schools and better jobs, to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.

And it means also taking full responsibility for own lives -- by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

This is a palliative for very deep and serious social troubles, as expressed by Thomas Sowell, Bill Cosby, and others. Many of these same troubles transcend race and region and are caused by a decades-long attack on the ethos of personal and civic responsibilities.

Ironically, this quintessentially American -- and, yes, conservative -- notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made; as if this country -- a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino, Asian, rich, poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. What we know -- what we have seen -- is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope -- the audacity to hope -- for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

Now, in the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination -- and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past -- that these things are real and must be addressed.


In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more and nothing less than what all the world's great religions demand: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle, as we did in the OJ trial; or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina; or as fodder for the nightly news.
We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.
We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

So any more discussion about your association with Wright, or with former members of the Weather Underground, Lezko, etc. is just "politics of division"? Senator, you came out of nowhere and now are laying claim to the presidency. We don't know you from Adam, and we're certainly not going to take at face value the word of your campaign as to who you are. We have every right to conduct this type of scruntiny of your past, your ideas and philosophy of governance, and your ethics. The MSM has been more than fair with you, indeed, they have been fawning. So please, no whining.

We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction, and then another one, and then another one. And nothing will change. That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time."


P.S. - Charles Krauthammer provides additional commentary on the Obama speech.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Great Political Film.

...includes "All the King's Men", the 1949 production starring Broderick Crawford as politician Willie Stark. Unlike "The Last Hurrah", this film finds no humor in the tale of a man's descent into corruption and demagoguery. Mercedes McCambridge is superb as Stark's psuedo-cynical apparatchik.