March 18, 2008

Obama's pivotal speech later today

I am really pulling for Obama to come up with a speech that makes the Gettysburg Address look like a to-do list, because I don't want to see him win or lose based on this. It's bad enough that Obama has backed off his standard stump speech farewell (see end of article). When I say "bad," I refer to what it signifies: Obama is feeling the heat and feels compelled to change his core message. That's unfortunate, because there is nothing offensive about his core message. I still believe he's more pomp than circumstance, but I respect the power of his rhetoric and I think principle means more to him than the other remaining candidates. So what is it that made Obama feel like he had to change his carefully-chosen goodbye?

What did Jeremiah Wright actually say?

Here's the text of his Audacity of Hope speech from 1990, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's blog:

And here is a much more comprehensive look at the issues and people involved, with lots of good links:

Everyone should read these sources before they offer any comment, except one: rest assured that the media has no interest in getting this story correct. They want to "spark debate," "investigate allegations." Bull. They want good old-fashioned controversy so they can sell more ads. This kind of storyline is more than enough to pull white voters away from Obama in November. How many people are going to bother delving deeper?

Which is why it's so important for Obama to address this story head on. He's doing what Kerry should have done on Swift Boat: DON'T WAIT. BE CLEAR. RESPOND DIRECTLY.

None of which gets to the real heart of the matter. The Times article mentions "Mr. Wright’s characterizations of the United States as fundamentally racist and the government as corrupt and murderous." As far as I am concerned, two out of those three adjectives are inarguable. This country is still fundamentally racist. We've made progress from slavery, segregation, George Wallace. But does anyone really believe racism isn't still prevalent in this country? Is this even debatable? Old habits die hard. This country, and this world, has a long way to go. And calling the government corrupt - doesn't everybody feel that way to some degree or another? I for one, agree to a radical degree that our government is corrupt, that there is a military-industrial complex that works against the public good, that we should only elect candidates who support campaign finance reform. Those comments should not be considered controversial, much less something that brings down Obama's candidacy.

I don't know Wright's words that are the basis for the Times saying he considers the United States government "murderous." In fact, in his 1990 speech, the most relevant comments are simply:

Our world cares more about bombs for the enemy than about bread for the hungry. This world is still more concerned about the color of skin than it is about the content of character—a world more finicky about what's on the outside of your head than about the quality of your education or what's inside your head.

I don't have a problem with that. Who would?

If he called the United States murderous, I wouldn't find that unpatriotic. Just like you can be against a war but pray for your soliders to come back safely, you can love your country but hate some of the things it does. The United States killed a lot of innocent Iraqis when it invaded Baghdad, Iraqis with just as much a right to live as anyone else - even Americans. If Wright considered the invasion a murderous act, he's not unpatriotic for doing so.

I need to find some Youtube clips to be more thorough, but I am going to pray for Obama to make a speech of a lifetime today. If he's going to lose, I don't want it to be on these terms.

March 18, 2008
On Defensive, Obama Plans Talk on Race
Faced with what his advisers acknowledged was a major test to his candidacy, Senator Barack Obama sought on Monday to contain the damage from incendiary comments made by his pastor and prepared to address the issue of race more directly than at any other moment of his presidential campaign.
Though he has faced questions about controversial statements by the pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., for more than a year, Mr. Obama is enduring intense new scrutiny now over Mr. Wright’s characterizations of the United States as fundamentally racist and the government as corrupt and murderous.
Mr. Obama, in a speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, will repeat his earlier denunciations of the minister’s words, aides said. But they said he would also use the opportunity to open a broader discussion of race, which his campaign has said throughout the contest that it wants to transcend. He will bluntly address racial divisions, one aide said, talking about the way they play out in church, in the campaign, and beyond.
Mr. Obama continued to write the speech on Monday evening, which he believes could be one of the most important of his presidential candidacy, aides said. His wife, Michelle, had not been scheduled to travel with him this week, but hastily made plans to be in Philadelphia.
Mr. Obama said Monday that in his speech, to be given at the National Constitution Center, he would “talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently.”
After removing Mr. Wright from a religious advisory committee on his campaign on Friday, Mr. Obama concluded over the weekend that he had not sufficiently explained his association with the pastor. He told several aides he was worried that if voters did not hear directly from him — in the setting of a major speech — doubts and questions about him might grow.
Some associates advised him against giving the speech. “Race is now officially on the table. It’s not going away after this,” a senior aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, recalled one adviser saying.
The episode has left Mr. Obama tending to a firestorm fed by matters no less combustible than faith, patriotism and race. It could help Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign advance its argument that Mr. Obama is “unvetted,” and that he is less electable than Mrs. Clinton come fall. In interviews, Republican strategists mapped out how Mr. Obama’s association with Mr. Wright could be used against him in a general election.
By addressing head-on such sensitive topics, his speech, aides and other Democrats said, could be a pivotal moment for Mr. Obama, who, for all of his electoral victories and copious news coverage, is still known only in the broadest terms by many Americans.
“This isn’t red and blue America,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant, referring to the address that catapulted Mr. Obama to prominence at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “This is black and white America.”
“And when you really have a serious conversation about race, people clear the room,” said Ms. Brazile, who as the manager of Al Gore’s bid for the White House in 2000 was the first black woman to run a major presidential campaign.
Mr. Obama is particularly vulnerable because voters are still getting to know him, said Democratic and Republican strategists — and a few voters as well. The Wright affair “makes me question other things. What else do we not know?” asked Karen Norton, 58, a computer saleswoman in North Carolina and a Republican who said that, until now, she had been stirred by Mr. Obama’s message of national reconciliation.
Mr. Wright’s statements, said strategists, threaten his greatest strength, his reputation as a unifying, uplifting figure, capable of moving the country past old labels and divisions.
“The problem is the complete contradiction between the message of the Obama campaign and the message of the minister who’s been his close friend and confidant for 20 years,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant unaffiliated with any campaign.
Mr. Obama has also pitched himself as a candidate who can attract religious voters back to the Democratic Party, one who speaks the language of the Bible fluently and testifies about what he says is the impact of Christianity on his own life.
“What better way to try to undercut the way he integrates faith and political vision than to say we should all be secretly afraid of his church?” said Jim Wallis, a left-leaning evangelical who has had longstanding relationships with both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, and who says that Mr. Wright has been unfairly caricatured in recent portrayals.
In strategic terms, Mr. Wright’s statements are tricky for the Obama campaign to address. The more the candidate denounces the minister’s words, the more voters may question why Mr. Obama attached himself to Mr. Wright in the first place and stuck with him for so long, not only attending his church but naming a book after one of his sermons.
Because of his own emphasis on powerful oratory, said Todd Harris, a Republican strategist, Mr. Obama cannot dismiss Mr. Wright’s words as mere rhetoric.
“At the core of the campaign is the fact that words matter,” said Mr. Harris, who is not now affiliated with any campaign. “Central to the idea of his candidacy is the idea that a speech can change the world. You can’t have a campaign that has that notion at its core and then point to other people’s words and say, those don’t really matter.”
Asked how Republicans might use the Wright matter in the general election, Mr. Harris cited several incidents that could be used to question Mr. Obama’s patriotism. “Negative ads are built on negative patterns,” he said.
He pointed to Mr. Obama decision to stop wearing a American flag lapel pin and the statement that his wife made about being proud of her country for the first time in her lifetime. (Mr. Obama has called the lapel pin an empty symbol of patriotism, and Mrs. Obama has said she was quoted out of context).
Five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, Mr. Obama had hoped to be refining his strategy to win over the support of white male voters — a demographic that began to slip away in his Ohio defeat. Instead he is facing his second straight week of negative news coverage. In a television interview with PBS on Monday, Mr. Obama called his pastor’s remarks “stupid” and conceded, “it has been a distraction from the core message of our campaign.”
If his earlier appearances in the day were any guide, he is making a few subtle alterations to his routine on the campaign trail.
In his many months of stumping, Mr. Obama has rarely bid farewell to an audience the way he did at a morning event in Monaca, Pa. “God bless you and God bless America!” he proclaimed.
Jeff Zeleny reported from Monaca, Pa.

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