Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama: "Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now."

Here is the transcript of Obama's historic speech this morning.

I'll post the video as soon as I can find the entire thing online.

I hope you will take some time to go beyond the sound-bite summaries and partisan spin to read/view this speech with care and consideration.

Here are some of the initial media reactions:

• David Corn, Mother Jones, "...a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining--not excusing--Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself."

• Chris Durang, Hiffington Post, "...brilliant, nuanced, healing and shows him to be incredibly worthy as a candidate. I hope America is interested enough in progress to embrace this man. We would be lucky, very lucky, to have him as a president... His speech was brave, and touched on the minister and race in general with real wisdom, and hope for healing... Bravo to the senator from Illinois."

• James Fallows, The Atlantic, "It was a moment that Obama made great through the seriousness, intelligence, eloquence, and courage of what he said. I don't recall another speech about race with as little pandering or posturing or shying from awkward points, and as much honest attempt to explain and connect, as this one."

• Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, "But I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history."

• John Robin Baitz, Huffington Post, "If there was any doubt about what we have missed in the anti-intellectual, ruthlessly incurious Bush years, and even the slippery Clinton ones, those doubts were laid to rest by Barack Obama's magisterial speech today. He reminded us that the dreams of black America do not come at the expense of white America. Someone running for the highest office in the land finally talked about it -- the dark and secret swamp that we Americans dodge at every possible opportunity."

• Jesse Jackson, ""I thought it was a culmination of tough-minded, tender-hearted and a clear vision. It really was warm, filling, captive, reconciling and comprehensive and it displayed real true grit. He was forthright not evasive and used it as a teaching moment in American history: America's struggle to overcome its past and become a more perfect union. And once he made the case about the past and the complexities of Reverend Wright's life or [Geraldine] Ferraro's for that matter, he made the case that we are here now, but this time we will go forward by hope and not backwards by fear."

• Kate Shepherd, The American Prospect, Obama's much-anticipated speech on race today hit the appropriate tone not just for addressing the Jeremiah Wright flap, but for framing the relevance of his candidacy in general. It was best in the way it framed the discomfort and resentment in the discussion of race in America that has lead to a "racial stalemate" for so many years, and made race "a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect."

• John Nichols, The Nation, "Obama did not do the politically "smart" thing. He did the right thing. And that is why his campaign will weather this storm... So Obama seized the opportunity to open up a dialogue about the role of race in America, turning a political challenge into what the late Paul Wellstone referred to as 'a teaching moment'... At the most basic level, Obama did what the media has failed to do. He presented Wright and Wright's comments on U.S. domestic and foreign policies in context: the context of the African-American religious experience, the context of the candidate's connection to the church and, above all, the context of this country's unresolved experience of what Obama correctly refers to as 'the original sin' of the American experiment -- human bondage -- and its legacy. The speech was masterful in this regard. Obama took the time to explore questions that rarely if ever get a fair hearing in American politics..."

• Charles Kaiser, www.radar.com, "He did it. No other presidential candidate in the last forty years has managed to speak so much truth so eloquently at such a crucial juncture in his campaign as Barack Obama did today. And he did it by speaking about race, the most persistent source of hatred among us since America began. It turns out that a candidate for president with a white mother and a black father has a capacity that no one else has ever had before: he can articulate an equal understanding of black racism and white racism --and that makes it possible for him to condemn both of them with equal passion."

• Ed Kilgore, The Democratic Strategist, "...this speech ups the ante for Obama's promise to act as a reconciler and unifier. After this speech, no one should be under the impression that he's mainly interested in overcoming the narcissistic culture-based political conflicts of the 1990s. He's now casting his candidacy as an opportunity to transcend one of the biggest continuing traumas of the 19th and 20th centuries, and of centuries before that: race. There's never been much question that he was viewed that way by many supporters. But now it's explicitly on the table, and we'll soon find out how much reconciliation and unity Americans really want, and on what terms."

• Greg Sargent, Talking Points Memo, "Obama's speech, throughout, asks its listeners to transcend themselves -- it asks them to choose nuance over cartoonish political controversy; it asks them to acknowledge stuff about race they don't want to acknowledge; it asks them to think big instead of small."

• Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly, "This is very much classic Obama: I understand why you're upset. I understand your problems. But let me set out a different way of looking at things."

• At The New York Times political blog, they had this:
We caught up with several members of the audience as they filed out of the auditorium after hearing Mr. Obama. Here is what they had to say:

Willie Jordan, 51, director of operations for a state senator: “It’s the first time I saw a politician confront the problem of race so directly.” He said he believed this would quell the controversy over Rev. Wright.

Annette Young, 51, a school police officer: “He was just wonderful. He hit all the right points. This showed how much we need him.”

Ray Jones, 44, executive director of Philadelphia Safety Net, an anti-violence program: “It was really pointed and it really captured what all of us talk about among ourselves, race, the elephant in the room. He came into the pain and he found something new. He talked about this in a way that white people could identify with.”

Wilhelmina Moore, 55, director of constituent services for a member of the Philadelphia City Council: “He made it very plain that he supported his pastor. They’ve been friends for years and he made it plain that Rev. Wright is his own person. I loved Obama talking about his white mother and black father and all his aunts and uncles who are of every race _ and he loves them all.”

Jay Leberman, who gave his age as “over 50” and who is the head of a Jewish day school: “I thought it was a brave and honest and quite articulate speech. I was pleased.” Asked whether it would quell the controversy about Rev. Wright, he said, “People who see race and religion behind every issue would continue to do so.” He added: “Had he come out and unequivocally disassociated himself totally from Rev. Wright, that would have showed a side of falsehood…. I thought he was honest.”

Sozi Tulante, 32, a lawyer who is representing a detainee at Guantanamo: “He took control of the moment. Had he rested on the Huffington Post article he wrote and his TV appearances, the issues would still be there: Why didn’t he ever leave the church? That’s what’s been bothering people, black and white. I think he did answer that, by placing it in the larger context of America and race in American history and addressing the fact that for a lot of middle and lower middle class white Americans, they feel some racial resentment because they have to struggle with education and health care. If you talk about race as a black issue, instead of as an American issue, you’re always going to lose. But expressing this in terms of his family, that’s powerful.”

• dnA at Kos, "Whether or not he gets elected, his candidacy has complicated the way we talk about race in America. On some level, that has to be a good thing."

• Charles Murray, conservative author of The Bell Curve, "I read the various posts here on "The Corner," mostly pretty ho-hum or critical about Obama's speech. Then I figured I'd better read the text (I tried to find a video of it, but couldn't). I've just finished. Has any other major American politician ever made a speech on race that comes even close to this one? As far as I'm concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we're used to from our pols."

• Atrios at Kos, "The narrative from the Right - and its representatives in the conservative religious community - is of an America which was once the garden of Eden, until its tragic fall at the hands of (feminists, liberals, civil rights movement, whatever), and they wish to bring the country back to its former state. Thus they can hate the America that is while dreaming of the perfect America that was. Thus there's no conflict between their unquestioned patriotism and their hatred of the country, as their patriotism is for the True America that was, not its current corrupted incarnation. While the mirror image rhetoric from the Left is about a country which was flawed, often tragically so, but which has the capacity for improvement. Be disgusted with the country as it was and is, while hoping for an evolution to a better country."

• Oliver Willis at Kos, "One of my personal maxims has been that politicians will disappoint you. The ones you like will have personal failings, while the ones you detest will fail time and time again. With Senator Obama, for the first time in my life, I have watched a political leader who I don’t worry if he’ll be up to the task. It’s like you had Michael Jordan in his prime or Joe Montana with 2 minutes to go. It’s that feeling where you say to yourself: Ok, breathe, he’s got it. Chill, Barack’s got it."

• Hillary Clinton, "I did not have a chance to see or to read yet Sen. Obama’s speech, but I’m very glad that he gave it. It’s an important topic," she said. "Issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history, and they have been complicated in this primary campaign. There have been detours and pitfalls along the way."

• Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic "I do think that Obama's speech was a marvel of contemporary political rhetoric. Politically, analytically and emotively, it hit many high notes. His acknowledgment of white working class resentments (busing) and about the perception that there's been no racial progress, his willingness to stick by his friends, his grasp of history, his sense that our views of race are cramped and caricatured... all of that is something that even those who disagree with the substance of his speech, can, I think, appreciate."

• David Kurtz, Talking Points Memo, "[The speech] is remarkable for its nuance, for its long view of history, and for its decency."

• Scout Finch at Kos: "This speech is amazingly honest and will hopefully spark a long overdue discussion on race in America. We'll see if it is enough to blunt to criticism of his relationship with Reverend Wright. I think he's done a spectacular job thus far of denouncing specific remarks by Reverend Wright, while still standing steadfastly by him and his community."

• David Brody, "We won't know for awhile how voters view Barack Obama's speech today on race relations but The Brody File saw it as a HUGE positive for Obama and a successful turning point for the future of his campaign."

• Jennifer Skalka, Hotline On Call, "Obama gave an eloquent speech today that will do much to quiet the increasingly polarizing debate about race in the Democratic contest. But more importantly, and more tellingly, he gave a deeply personal talk about his race, about his experience as a biracial American. And voters needed to hear it. Not because his biography is, in and of itself, the answer for these confusing times, but because, perhaps, only a person of his experience can dare all of us to be our better selves."


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