Thoughts on the Obama Speech
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 08:05:40 AM EDT
Watching Barack Obama's speech and reading through the prepared text, I came away with a decidedly different view than Jerome. Far from this speech marking "a new low" in the campaign as a result of Obama's mention of Geraldine Ferraro in passing during his renunciation of the inflammatory and plain wrong remarks of Jeremiah Wright, I saw this as a clear attempt to move beyond the tit-for-tat and come to a real understanding. The speech truly fit in with the overall belief driving the Obama campaign -- that in the end, we are all not so different, and we can still come together as Americans to form a more perfect country.
The real comparison Obama made here was not between Wright and Ferraro, although he did mention her a single time to dismiss the notion that she "[harbors] some deep-seated racial bias." The much more important juxtaposition in this speech was between Wright at Obama's own white grandmother, who loved Obama "as much as she loves anything else in this world" but "who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made [him] cringe." This is not to say that Obama believes his grandmother's statements were as divisive as those of Wright, or that they were otherwise on the same level. What is is to say, however, is that race is still an issue in this country.
Some might, and unfortunately do still use race in a divisive manner. This is a reality we cannot ignore. But just as some will use these issues to divide, there also lies within them the capacity to unite. When Obama points to the words spoken by Wright or his grandmother, he does so to illustrate that the sometimes external debates and conflicts in our society also occur as internal struggles in many Americans, including himself. And just as there may be a drive for individuals to take polarizing positions, so too is there room for people to come together.
This, fundamentally, is what the Obama campaign -- and indeed Barack Obama's political life, at least since his speech in 2004 and probably even earlier -- has been about: The hope of bringing people together. Yes, this is a hope. We are not there yet. But is is something noble to strive for. Obama said today, "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected." We may never completely get there. But that does not mean that we should not strive to be the shining city on the hill. And indeed that hope, that struggle, that effort is what America is about.
Update [2008-3-18 12:22:39 by Jonathan Singer]: You can watch the whole speech here in case you missed it.