Dependable Erection

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's big speech

I just took a few minutes to read the text of the speech that Barack Obama is delivering this morning in Philadelphia.

I'm not sure if an American political figure office seeker has delivered anything this powerful in my lifetime.

UPDATE: Some extracts:
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

. . .

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and 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.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

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12 Comments:

  • Dayum!

    By Blogger Vera, at 3:27 PM  

  • Great speech! Even better to listen to than read. Surely would be nice to again have a President who can use five syllable words.

    By Blogger MK, at 5:37 PM  

  • I'd settle for a three syllable word used correctly.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:57 PM  

  • Yes, it was a very good speech. Pity we don't live in the 60's and 70's, when that mattered.

    On the other hand, go read National Review Online responses. The right is terrified.

    By Blogger DurhamFood, at 8:54 PM  

  • it still matters...

    By Blogger Vera, at 10:14 PM  

  • I think all this fire is making Obama better. After all the noise about Rev. Wright, Obama is still the classy guy I think he is and want to vote for.

    I have never heard any politician (in the good sense of the word) ever mention white dissatisfaction with affirmative action, busing, etc. in such sympathetic tones. Or towards a larger meaning of where to go next.

    Race is the 800 lb. elephant in the room and here's the first candid political speech about it.

    By Blogger Tony, at 10:32 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Locomotive Breath, at 4:45 PM  

  • I have never heard any politician (in the good sense of the word) ever mention white dissatisfaction with affirmative action, busing, etc. in such sympathetic tones.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIyewCdXMzk

    'cause it's OK when a black Democrat does it but it's racist when a white Republication does it.

    By Blogger Locomotive Breath, at 4:47 PM  

  • Hey LB, don't f**king put words in my mouth, you f**king a**hole. Really, this is it. I've had it.

    You post a f**king Jesse Helms ad? What the f**k is that about? What did Jesse Helms EVER do for working class North Carolinians? Except to engage in a non-stop, bitter, acrimonious, racially-tinged blame game without end? Did that a**hole EVER bring any JOBS to North f**king Carolina? Or did all he ever bring to this great state was shame?

    Jesse Helms wrote the book that Karl Rove j*cks off to. Another fine accomplishment for the Grand Old Party.

    I know there are many, if not most, Republican politicians who are not racists. I swear to f**king g*d I have no idea where in my post you see me accusing anyone of that. This is an historic Democratic speech, not an historic Republican speech for reasons that no doubt elude you.

    Are you like, TWELVE, or something?

    You want to start this bullsh*t with me? Well, let me finish it for you, you ignorant d*ck-head.

    So again, for the sake of clarity, f**k you.

    I take great umbrage at your implications and again, I really, really, don't like it when you place meaning into my post that is not there. Especially with the sh*t-wipe Jesse F**kin' Helms.

    Got that?

    By Blogger Tony, at 9:22 PM  

  • Naturally, George Wallace did too, of course. Pointing out Jesse Helms here damn near borders on non-sequitur.

    Put it this way -- has any politician ever effectively, in the same speech, conveyed empathy for the anger and rage by black Americans built up over centuries of injustice, but at the same time acknowledged valid roots of working class white resentment?

    Find me a speech by a Republican that does that with anything remotely resembling the same effectiveness and I'll crap a brick right here.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 12:26 AM  

  • Michael - i hear that eating all your meals at P.F.Chang's is good for that sort of thing.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:27 AM  

  • What did Jesse Helms EVER do for working class North Carolinians?

    Gee, why don't you ask them. They kept electing him. A lot of his voters were Democrats. His message on the fundamental unfairness of affirmative action and race-based preferences resonated with them. I guess Obama has decided to hop on board.

    Helms is not running now. But Obama is. What did he ever do for anyone at any time? Makes a fine speech but his accomplishments are about zero. He's done even less than that last guy the Democrats nominated. Which is saying something.

    Since it was such an important issue last time, let me be the first to call for the full release of Obama's military records. We're still waiting for John "reporting for duty" Kerry's.

    By Blogger Locomotive Breath, at 5:07 PM  

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