On Race: Obama versus (Bill) Clinton (hint: they agree!)
by blueflorida, Sun Mar 23, 2008 at 02:48:47 PM EDT
Just now watching a replay of Meet the Press where Russert, Eugene Robinson, Jon Meacham, Chuck Todd, and Peggy Noonan are discussing Senator Obama's speech on race. It recalls to mind an old speech of Bill Clinton's I recently read which was very striking for one reason in particular.
The reason? It's remarkably similar to Senator Obama's speech.
It's become pro-forma for Obama supporters (and journalists) to accuse Bill Clinton of all variants of racism, prejudice, and cynicism. It's also become standard for defenders of Bill Clinton and supporters of Hillary Clinton to ignore the quite strong similarities between Clinton and Obama's world views.
Maybe it's time for detente.
Below are key excerpts and links to both speeches.
Bill Clinton, October 1995:
Recognizing one another's real grievances is only the first step. We must all take responsibility for ourselves, our conduct and our attitudes. America, we must clean our house of racism. (Applause.)
To our white citizens, I say, I know most of you ever day do your very best by your own lights -- to live a life free of discrimination. Nevertheless, too many destructive ideas are gaining currency in our midst. The taped voice of one policeman should fill you with outrage. (Applause.) And so I say, we must clean the house of white America of racism. Americans who are in the white majority should be proud to stand up and be heard denouncing the sort of racist rhetoric we heard on that tape -- so loudly and clearly denouncing it, that our black fellow citizens can hear us. White racism may be black people's burden, but it's white people's problem. (Applause.) We must clean our house. (Applause.)
To our black citizens, I honor the presence of hundreds of thousands of men in Washington today, committed to atonement and to personal responsibility, and the commitment of millions of other men and women who are African Americans to this cause. I call upon you to build on this effort, to share equally in the promise of America. But to do that, your house, too, must be cleaned of racism. There are too many today -- (applause) -- there are too many today, white and black, on the left and the right, on the street corners and radio waves, who seek to sow division for their own purposes. To them I say, no more. We must be one. (Applause.)
Long before we were so diverse, our nation's motto was E Pluribus Unum -- out of many, we are one. We must be one -- as neighbors, as fellow citizens; not separate camps, but family -- white, black, Latino, all of us, no matter how different, who share basic American values and are willing to live by them.
When a child is gunned down on a street in the Bronx, no matter what our race, he is our American child. When a woman dies from a beating, no matter what our race or hers, she is our American sister. (Applause.) And every time drugs course through the vein of another child, it clouds the future of all our American children. (Applause.)
Whether we like it or not, we are one nation, one family, indivisible. And for us, divorce or separation are not options. (Applause.)
Barack Obama, March 2008
This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - 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 is 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 whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means 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.
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 has 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 and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But 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.
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 - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.