Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's Speech and Deeds

People are swooning over Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Today, Nicholas Kristof calls it "the best political speech since John Kennedy talked about his Catholicism in Houston in 1960. ... It was not a sound bite, but a symphony." Better than any of Reagan's speeches? Better than MLK?

This Wright association is bringing into focus a number of issues that have been nagging at those of us who have been untouched by the fog of enthusiam that has overcome many others who have been observing Obama's political advent. Put it together:

His wife, Michelle, who is out campaigning for him separately as though she were his running mate, says that she has never in all her adult life been proud of her country. In her view, America is a miserable, oppressive place--something like Eastern Europe under Soviet domination or South Africa under apartheid.

Barack seems to hold the same opinion, though he covers it over with positive rhetoric. Though he affirms the country's goodness, we all know that people who seek the highest office in the land have been known to package themselves suitably for the election and tell people what they want to hear. This was the Republican suspicion of Mitt Romney, whether justified or not. Ronald Reagan had a long history of speeches and deeds, and so no one suspected him of just putting on a patriotic face.

In Obama's campaign speeches, he talks about the grimy, oppressive, hopeless America for which his candidacy is our only hope. Thus, Michelle's new found civic pride. In "Obama At The Top" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14, 2008), Daniel Henninger describes Obama's view of today's America as "unremitting bleakness." That is also Jeremiah Wright's view.

Consider also that during the Iowa campaign, he stopped wearing the American flag pin--what he called "that pin"--choosing instead to show his patriotism by proposing policies for helpful change. Can't you do both? The link is to the video of his 32 second statement on the matter to ABC News.

Here we footage of several candidates at an Iowa event hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin. The national anthem is playing and everyone has his hand over his heart, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. But only Barack Obama refuses to put his hand over his heart while the Star Spangled Banner plays.

Jeremiah Wright had a profound effect on Obama's developing worldview. Jodi Kantor describes this in her April 30 2007 article in the New York Times, "A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith."

He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons. ... It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign....He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons....Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy.

She quotes his spiritual mentor as saying, “If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

Turning to the Philadelphia speech (the Obama website also has the text of the speech), first of all, I didn't think it was as good as people say. He was certainly no MLK in his delivery. The speech itself was too full of objectionable equivalences to to win over or placate any impartial observer. He equates the one remark by Geraldine Ferraro, a faithful liberal by any standard, with the decades of hateful, ranting paranoia by Jeremiah Wright. He even puts his dear grandmother, whom he tells the whole nation has been guilty of an occasional kitchen table stereotyping remark, on the same level as preacher Wright whose remarks have been loud, public, widely distributed, unrepentant and consistently voiced for decades. What's that? Hiding behind an old woman (his grandma, no less!) and letting her take the bullets? In addition, what he claims are isolated remarks ("views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike"), he continues to embrace the man himself who is inseparable from those views.

Michael Medved has a fine analysis of those odd equivalences in "Three Big Problems With Barack's Speech."

Shelby Steele, in "The Obama Bargain" (Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2008) questions just how post racial he can be with this church background. "How does one 'transcend' race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?"

With almost five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, lots of time for America to ruminate over these things and digest the implications, Hillary Clinton must be smiling quietly. John McCain must be taking notes.

No comments: