The XX Factor

Obama’s Historic Speech in Cairo

So Barack Obama’s historic speech in Cairo is already getting rave review s . It was, indeed, vintage Obama (if that’s not an oxymoron), using his biography as a point of entrance and connection, eschewing what he views as old, false dichotomies, and stressing a pragmatic, hopeful way forward. One of Obama’s strengths is the manner in which he dives into the thicket that many politicians talk around; his speeches often put complicated things in deceptively simple ways, as when he said that just as Islam is not the stereotype many Americans make it out to be, nor is “America … the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.” He put his money where his mouth was. Where the Bush regime refused rhetorical nuance and deflected criticism by using words like “patriotism” and “democracy,” by stark contrast, Obama spoke directly about America’s complex history when he mentioned our role decades ago in the overthrow of a democratically-elected government in Iran. One question, though: Was he tough enough about women’s rights? This was one area where I felt Obama didn’t push hard enough, though his position is one I respect, and he frames it cogently. As he put it, “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.” I wish, though, he had said more on this subject; it has always seemed to me that his one point of weakness has been in reaching out to women in particular. Thoughts?