The speech: Responding to criticism over the toxic sermons his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has delivered, Barack Obama delivered his much anticipated speech Tuesday on race in America. He tried to explain how Wright’s views were in many ways reflective of those of the African-American community, still reeling from the permanent wounds of slavery and Jim Crow and given to anger and frustration that often belies the kind of boundless optimism the candidate has made a hallmark of his campaign. Bloggers largely found the speech stirring and eloquent to an almost unprecedented degree. As for what it will do to help Obama’s slightly damaged campaign, they are less sure.
Paul Mirengoff at conservative Power Line writes, “It will not do to say that Wright is ‘part of America.’ Lots of deplorable people are part of America, including white racists. Political candidates are not required to embody every strand of America, much less the most noxious hate-filled ones. Political candidates embrace the strands that speak to them, and we should embrace the political candidates whose strands of thinking speak to us. No other candidate for president contains Wright’s thinking as ‘part of them.’ ” Ann Althouse sees the speech as a failure: “I’d say he did not do very much — other than to resist condemning Wright and to model his socially acceptable attitudes and generate a feeling — I’m sure you didn’t all feel it — that we need unite behind this man if the terrible divisions over race are going to end.”
Marc Ambinder was more impressed: “In no uncertain terms did Obama renounce – morally condemn – the hateful, anti-Semitic, anti-American and just plain bizarre rants of his pastor – ‘former pastor,’ as Obama now calls him. But he did not reject him. He refused to reject him. He is daring, in essence, his white liberal supporters to accept what Wright’s anger represents – a legacy of oppression – and daring the rest of white supporters to take a leap of faith.” So was Kyle E. Moore at Comments From Left Field: “What he did do was recognize that while Wright was out of line, his inappropriate comments were fueled by a racial tension from a different generation that still feels the wounds of segregation and oppression, wounds that have been passed down to future generations as a result of the fact that Americans continue to fail to deal with race relations in this country in an open and honest matter.”
Will Bunch at Attytood says, “I honestly can’t predict how the American heartland will react, but I do think America will be talking about this morning’s speech – like JFK in 1960 – for generations to come. What happens in the next hour may cost Barack Obama the presidency – or it may hand him the keys to the White House.”
At the New Republic’s Plank, Jonathan Chait finds the speech intelligent and subtle—almost too subtle for a politician: “[Obama] may be liberated to operate at a high intellectual level in public because he’s black. I’m not trying to be Gerry Ferraro here; let me explain. Candidates like John Kerry and (even moreso) Al Gore were also very smart, but constantly forced to dumb it down lest they be tagged as out-of-touch elitists. Since the egghead image is so at odds with the prevailing stereotypes about African-Americans, he has much less to fear by speaking at a high intellectual level.” And John McWhorter guest posts, “For a light-skinned half-white Ivy League-educated black man to repudiate, in clear language and repeatedly, the take on race of people like Julian Bond and Nikki Giovanni is not only honest but truly bold.”
Steve Benan at the Carpetbagger Report concludes, “[I]f Obama’s address is judged on its merits, it’ll be considered one of the high points of the campaign. In this sense, the Wright controversy may ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise — it prompted Obama to deliver one of the great modern speeches on race in America.”
Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan was, unsurprisingly, impressed: “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.”
But Bull Dog Pundit at Ankle Biting Pundits thinks the speech reads like a “lecture” and spots the following contradiction: “[H]e tries to say that blacks who feel victimized by racism should bind together with others who feel victimized by prejudice (i.e. women, the John Edwards ‘millworker’ type, and ‘immigrants’ (does he mean legal or illegal?)) to make things better. But he also discusses the need people who feel this way not to be trapped by their victimhood status and to make their own destiny through hard work.”
Finally, Michael Dawson at The Root worries that it’s too little, too late: “[The speech] restored hope among his supporters, and convinced many whom had been skeptical that there was more to the man than just hollow rhetoric. If the racialized anti-Obama campaign is effective, however, and one news source suggests that it already has been (while increasing the net likelihood that blacks will vote for Obama, 56 percent of voters are reported to say that his ties to Wright decrease their likelihood of voting for the Senator), it appears that only a candidate that is politically whiter than Senator Obama can win high national office.”
Read more reactions to Obama’s speech.