I listed to Barack Obama's much-anticipated speech on the radio this morning. No one ever said he couldn't give a great oratory. But, will it be enough to stop his slide in the polls and convince people that he does not espouse the views of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, or at least, that he has not done enough to repudiate them?
While it was a great speech as speeches go, I don't think it will get Obama out of dutch with the majority of America voters. First, while Obama did the right thing in confronting his relationship with Wright head-on, instead of dancing around it, his strategy was to embrace the person of Wright but state that he, Obama, strongly disagreed with some of his political views.
In what might be the crucial quote, Obama suggests that many of us in America have heard remarks from our minister, priests or rabbis with which we have strongly disagreed. That's where he lost me. I have NEVER heard the kind of pure venom come out of any religious leader that I would want to associate with. Wright's statements, which have been played in an endless loop since last Friday on the Internet and the news, are not the kind of statements that the vast majority of America is going to brush off as a disagreeable remark that can be forgiven in the overall scheme of a pastor's mission.
Obama also suggested that the visceral reaction that he believes many people had to Wright's remarks on the video are due, in some part, to the notion that the majority of America is not used to religious services of the nature of many black churches. Again, I don't think this holds up. People are not upset because they watched a video of a religious service with music, clapping, dancing and soaring oratory; they are upset because of the words that came out of Wright's mouth; words that no circumstances or "context" can excuse. On the one hand, Obama seems to want to say he is not making excuses, but the subtext of his speech is that Wright has a reason for spewing his hateful words, and that therefore it's OK for Obama to have been associated with this man, and to continue his association.
The other part of this is that Obama seems to be implying that the issue of racial injustice must be confronted in this country, which most people would probably agree with. However, even though Obama almost came right out and said that the success of confronting the problems of race in this country did not depend on supporting him as President, I think the subtext of the speech said exactly that: If we don't elect Barack Obama, the problems of race in this society will continue to get buried and never be solved. That's pretty arrogant.
I don't think Obama had much choice but to make this speech, but the problem in confronting this issue head-on is that now, many people not familiar with Obama already are going to see his candidacy through the prism of race and the struggle against racial injustice, which I think Obama was working very hard to avoid up until now. In other words, Obama has now become a "black" candidate, whereas before now, he had done a masterful job of transcending race and not allowing it to define his campaign. If the campaign survives, I think it's now been defined as such, which is regrettable on many levels, but appears to be a political reality--and one that was self-inflicted due to his tight and unrepentant association with Wright.
More on this later as the dust settles, but for now, consider this an Obama speech open thread.