Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Editorial Response to Obama's Historic Speech

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial:
With his brilliant speech on race relations yesterday at the National Constitution Center, Barack Obama showed why his campaign for president has the aura of a mission.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial:
As an example of contemporary oratory, it was stunning. As political rhetoric, it was designed to do far more than damage control and, in the end, distilled the essence of his candidacy.

New York Times Editorial:
We can’t know how effective Mr. Obama’s words will be with those who will not draw the distinctions between faith and politics that he drew, or who will reject his frank talk about race. What is evident, though, is that he not only cleared the air over a particular controversy — he raised the discussion to a higher plane.

Los Angeles Times Editorial:
No single speech will recalibrate America's consideration of race and politics, but we are closer today, thanks to this remarkable address, to facing our history and perfecting our nation.

Dallas Morning News Editorial:
Has any major U.S. politician in modern times ever given a speech about race in America as unflinching, human and ultimately hopeful as the one Barack Obama delivered yesterday? ...

It was possibly the most important major speech on race in America since Dr. King died, and it probably saved Mr. Obama's candidacy. If, in the end, Barack Obama does not win the nomination, let it never be said that he did not serve his country.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial:
So Obama, in that exceptional way he has of brushing aside polemics, stepped up to a podium in Philadelphia and challenged us to see all the shades of gray, to embrace our greater and shared humanity.

It was a moving moment in American history to hear a man who could be president dissect the rancorous matter of race with such candor, and it called to mind other piercing addresses by the likes of FDR, Kennedy and King.

Sacramento Bee Editorial:
This was not a campaign speech; it was Barack Obama speaking to the ages. Clearly, he has thought about this issue for a very long time. Americans can learn from him, no matter what course the campaign may take.

Boston Globe Editorial:
... Obama took the opportunity to engage the question of race in America, starting a bold, uncomfortably honest conversation. He asked Americans to talk openly about the deep wells of anger and resentment over racism, discrimination, and affirmative action. It's a call to break out of the country's racial stalemate and finally reach a new national understanding.

Seattle Times Editorial:
In the annals of American history, a watershed moment should come from "A More Perfect Union," Sen. Barack Obama's powerful speech linking 221 years of race relations.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial:
On Tuesday morning, at a moment of maximum peril to his own ambitions, Sen. Barack Obama delivered not just a speech, but an extraordinary gift to America: A way to transcend racial divisions and political cynicism and set about the task of forming a more perfect union.

The 45-minute address, delivered to an audience of 200 elected officials and religious leaders at Philadelphia's Constitution Center, would have been remarkable under any circumstances. Under the circumstances that beset the senator from Illinois, it was the equivalent of a World Series walk-off grand-slam home run, a singular moment in the history of American political rhetoric.

Houston Chronicle Editorial:
Obama, confronted with flaws in his own church "family," passes these tests. His thoughtful exploration of those flaws certainly was good for his campaign. But by fully and realistically exploring and discussing the hard topic of race, Obama did more. He showed deep understanding of this complex culture, and faith in the strength of the national family.

Newsday Editorial:
The complex calculus of racial animus in this nation is real. And it is powerful. And, as Obama said, "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." This nation needs to bridge that chasm. One speech won't do it. Nor will one candidacy. But it would help if we stop using race as a political cudgel.

Newark Star-Ledger Editorial:
This was not a speech written by a political spinmeister just back from taking the pulse of the latest focus group. It was the heartfelt speech of a man who has spent a good part of his life thinking about what it means to be an American.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:
When we think of words in politics or governance that had to be said, we think of the Gettysburg Address or Franklin Delano Roosevelt's admonition that all we had to fear was "fear itself." And now we think of Obama's speech on race - words that sorely needed saying.

The Oregonian Editorial:
But every American, young and old, should hear this speech. Obama certainly isn't a post-racial candidate, if there is such a thing, and he didn't claim to be one Tuesday. But he did offer an inspiring vision of a nation where unity eclipses division, and where the identity we cherish most is the one we all share: American.

Kansas City Star Editorial:
It would have been politically expedient for Obama to disown Wright totally. But in a reflection of his own integrity, Obama said Wright was instrumental in the development of his faith and had other virtues that his critics were ignoring.

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post:
Yesterday morning, in what may be remembered as a landmark speech regardless of who becomes the next president, Obama established new parameters for a dialogue on race in America that might actually lead somewhere -- that might break out of the sour stasis of grievance and countergrievance, of insensitivity and hypersensitivity, of mutual mistrust.

Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish:
I have never felt more convinced that this man's candidacy - not this man, his candidacy - and what he can bring us to achieve - is an historic opportunity. This was a testing; and he did not merely pass it by uttering safe bromides. He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who co-chairs the Maryland for Obama campaign, hit the nail on the head when he told me: "Obama has the ability to elevate our thinking beyond the chicken-yard scratching and biting. He calls on us to soar like eagles. And if he can't always take you there, he can sure dare you to go."

David Corn,
With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.

John Dickerson, Slate:
Can you give a State of the Union address before you're president? Barack Obama talked about race in America for 45 minutes in a nearly 5,000-word speech. That was longer than some of the annual presidential addresses, and though, yes, those speeches tend to cover more topics, this one felt like it addressed the actual state of our union more than those dreary January list readings presidents are obligated to perform.

Janny Scott, New York Times:
Yet the speech was also hopeful, patriotic, quintessentially American — delivered against a blue backdrop and a phalanx of stars and stripes. Mr. Obama invoked the fundamental values of equality of opportunity, fairness, social justice. He confronted race head-on, then reached beyond it to talk sympathetically about the experiences of the white working class and the plight of workers stripped of jobs and pensions.

Jonathan Alter, Newsweek:
In introducing the speech, Harris Wofford, the former senator from Pennsylvania, hinted at the historic weight that hung over the occasion. Wofford, a friend of Martin Luther King Jr.'s and a onetime adviser to President John F. Kennedy, recalled a White House conversation with King, after Kennedy had informed King that there would be no quick vote on the sweeping civil rights legislation pending. "Martin turned to me and said, 'I had hoped we at long last had a president who had the intelligence to understand this problem and the political skill to solve it and the moral passion to see it through. I'm convinced ... that he has got the intelligence and the skill. We'll have to see if he has the passion'."

Wofford suggested that Obama did in fact possess all three qualities. The critics, reporters, cable commentators—and ultimately the voters—will all be weighing that assertion in the aftermath of the most personal and extensive discussion of the legacy of slavery made by any major American politician in memory. For the moment, Obama gave them much more to talk about than the sermons of Jeremiah Wright.

Jim Mitchell, Dallas Morning News:
Politicians rarely achieve such a depth of humanity, in part because they're captive to narrow life experiences, rigid ideology or consultants. It's one thing to know intellectually that race is still a factor in American life and how it polls. It's quite another to eloquently express the profound stain of past racial injustices without being trite, hostile or unabashedly partisan.

Jon Robin Baitz, Huffington Post:
Today we saw and heard a preview of our brightest possible American future in Senator Barack Obama's glorious speech. This, then, is what it means to be presidential. To be moral. To have a real center. To speak honestly, from the heart, for the benefit of all. If there was any doubt about what we have missed in the anti-intellectual, ruthlessly incurious Bush years, and even the slippery Clinton ones (the years of "what is is"), those doubts were laid to rest by Barack Obama's magisterial speech today. A speech in which he distanced himself from a flawed father figure, Reverend Wright, and did so with almost Shakespearian dignity and honor.

Robert F. Kennedy, Cape Town, South Africa:
Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.... I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.

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