Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Toward a more perfect union

Barack Obama took the occasion of the vicious attacks on him because of the ill-advised words of his former pastor, to go beyond the obvious, to go beyond fighting back, to go beyond simple politics - to give a heart-felt, important, gut-level discussion of race in America. From his perspective as a mixed-race American, he is uniqulely able, among major statesmen, to understand and address race in America.

What a wonderful occasion it will be to hear this man's inaugural speech and his State of the Union addresses. He is right, of course, that his election will not perfect the union. But it will be an inspiring administration that will "promote a more perfect union".

If you didn't hear the speech, go read it now.

Here's a short excerpt that illustrates his unusual perspective.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
A great speech. A great candidate. And, potentially, a monumentally great President.

Update -Other responses to The Speech

SW at Oh!Pinion has responded eloquently
If Obama’s name is on ballots across the land next November — and it should be — some will vote for him, some against him and some for the Republican candidate. Regardless of their election day choice, all Americans should respect Barack Obama as a man of exceptional intelligence, humanity and character. He earned that respect today.
Andrew Sullivan says:
And it was a reflection of faith - deep, hopeful, transcending faith in the promises of the Gospels. And it was about America - its unique promise, its historic purpose, and our duty to take up the burden to perfect this union - today, in our time, in our way
Eugebe Robinson in the Washington Post:
Yesterday morning, in what may be remembered as a landmark speech regardless of who becomes the next president, Obama established new parameters for a dialogue on race in America that might actually lead somewhere -- that might break out of the sour stasis of grievance and countergrievance, of insensitivity and hypersensitivity, of mutual mistrust.

From the Dallas Morning News:
Obama's speech will go down in history as one of the best modern speeches about America's ongoing racial divide and the failure to address the roots of it.

The Los Angeles Times:
It may have begun as an exercise in political damage control, but Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia on "A More Perfect Union" was that rarity in American political discourse: a serious discussion of racial division, distrust and demonization. Whether or not the speech defuses the controversy about some crackpot comments by Obama's longtime pastor, it redefines our national conversation about race and politics and lays down a challenge to the cynical use of the "race card."

Tim Ruttan:
One hundred and fifty years ago this June, a lanky Illinois lawyer turned politician gave a speech that changed the way Americans talked about the great racial issues of their day.

The lawyer was Abraham Lincoln, and the speech was the famous "House Divided" ...

America's political story is studded with such addresses -- historical signposts that divide that which went before from all that followed on an issue of crucial national importance. Franklin Roosevelt's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" speech fundamentally changed Americans' expectations of their government in times of social and economic crisis. John F. Kennedy's address on Catholicism and politics to the Greater Houston Ministerial Assn. in 1960 forever altered the way we think about religion and public office.

Sen. Barack Obama, another lanky lawyer from Illinois, planted one of those rhetorical markers in the political landscape Tuesday, when he delivered his "More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia, near Independence Hall.

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