Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama's Best Speech of the Season?

On the eve of Martin Luther King day, Barack Obama spoke on King's old pulpit at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His speech was bold, progressive, and necessary:
“For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays - on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

“And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

“We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

As Steve Benen put it, if anybody still thought after the Donnie McClurkin incident that Obama was going to throw gay Americans under the bus, they can lay those fears to bed.

Pam Spaulding describes Obama's words as "so necessary", but adds:
This topic has always been a perceived as a third rail topic for the other leading Dem candidates, Clinton or Edwards -- they are, like many whites, particularly if they see themselves as allies, dread being seen as pointing out the evils and hypocrisy of such bigotry in the black faith community, even as wrong and tragic as it is on its face.
That we cannot discuss the matter of homophobia or anti-Semitism in the black community bluntly is everyone's problem. This burden and legacy of fomenting bigotry out of fear and ignorance is borne by all of us. If no one takes responsibility, we all fail. And we're failing -- look at how easily gender bias and racial overtones have surfaced over and over in the campaign so far. It's almost reflexive to "go there," the toxicity and effectiveness of stirring those sentiments has been part of the political process by both parties for so long that they are addicted to it.

The "third rail" analysis is, I think, solid (although it's easy to under-state the degree of political courage it takes for a Black man to deliver this speech on MLK day. Whites aren't the only people at risk from the rail). It's a difficult issue. Specks and logs and all that. But open, honest dialogue is the only way forward. And Obama deserves massive amount of credit for opening the doors and demanding that everybody take stock of their own participation in injustice.


A brief perusal of blogger reaction seems to buttress my instinct that this speech hit a sweet spot:

The Vig: "If you don’t think the man who spoke those words is worthy of being the next president, I can’t help you."

Daniel Hernandez: "Barack Obama crystallized his message so powerfully yesterday, a political rhetoric of true reconciliation, the type I don't believe we have seen in generations."

Buffalo Pundit: "After 12 years of Reagan and/or Bush, after 8 years of Clinton, and after another 7 years of another Bush, this speech speaks to me, and rings true."

And finally, one of the ways you know my quoted section is good is that in this unbelievably hackish dissection of it ("Obama says he wants unity, but he's upset by greed-motivated lending policies causing people to lose their homes. Guess he doesn't want to unify mortgage brokers!") by "The editors of the American Federalist Journal", the above excerpt doesn't even make an appearance. When even the snipers can't snipe, you know you've nailed it.

1 comment:

Stentor said...

if anybody still thought after the Donnie McClurkin incident that Obama was going to throw gay Americans under the bus, they can lay those fears to bed.

I don't see how one reference in one speech completely cancels out touring with McClurkin (or his longstanding opposition to same sex marriage). I *hope* this speech represents his true feelings, but it doesn't *prove* anything.