Personally, the part about Barack Obama’s former minister was the least important part of the senator’s speech yesterday (full text here). Having already said most of it over the preceding few days as he was harassed and harangued out of all proportion to this miniscule issue, it was also the most boring section. Boring because I don’t care about the minister.
But public (or, at least, media) attention was so unrelenting that Senator Obama was forced to explain himself. As he began, I feared he would fumble this crucial speech - until about halfway through the 40 minutes when he said:
“I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.”
Of course, he was right. That is what the body politic wanted. Having cornered the black man into atoning for words that are not his, the media, the public, those who oppose his candidacy wanted him to pay for the right to continue the campaign on an equal footing with the woman candidate by abasing himself at the feet of their accusations. Only then would they put the campaign’s racial under- and overtones back into a drawer.
Until next time.
But instead of setting aside the race issue, Senator Obama called on all the people of the United States to face it head on and really mean it this time:
“But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now," he said. "We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
“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.”
Senator Obama should never have been required to make this speech. But without it, due to the insinuations, innuendo and those video clips of Reverend Wright, the issue would have festered for months preventing any possibility of debate on our deadly serious problems.
He delivered one of the most sophisticated speeches politics has seen in years. Also one of the most personal and most decent - one that asks all of us to become our better selves:
“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.
“This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
“But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”
Not quite John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” Not quite Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” Or his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” But approaching them and certainly a speech that will not be forgotten for a long time. Bear with me, read a bit more and tell me you’re not inspired – whomever your candidate is:
“…in this election, we can come together and say, ‘Not this time.’ This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.
"This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
“This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
“This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.”
Senator Obama spoke yesterday with eloquence, dignity and vision about the future of the United States. Is it too much to hope that Reverend Jeremiah Wright can be put to bed now and the campaign get on with the conversation the senator is trying to start?
Here is the video of Senator Obama's entire speech (37:02 minutes):
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey follows up on some previous culinary-related stories with Failure to Cook.]