Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Challenging, bargaining, or avoiding?

What did you think of Barack Obama's big speech on race yesterday?

It took me a while clicking around to find anything but news stories, transcripts or short video excerpts of the speech (newspaper sites are missing a bet here), so if you haven't seen the complete version and would like to, here it is:

I was impressed as I watched it. On purely a political level, Obama seemed to pull off the unlikely trick of using the first real negative press of his campaign -- his association with the fiery and voter-unfriendly Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- as an invitation to deliver an important and defining address about himself, his campaign and the nation.

Watching him talk, you see why so many people like him. He comes across as relaxed, thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent and engaging. Not a lot of politicians of the past, oh, eight years or so could make such an impression, especially on such a difficult subject.

I also thought, wow, this is just good campaigning. His willingness to take on his own political base while also defending it reminded me of Bill Clinton's critical Sister Souljah moment in the 1992 campaign, which might have been the turning point in that election. And in its personal tone and the weightiness of its subject, it made me think of John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech on religion in politics. (Compare the Kennedy speech and Obama's self-reflection with Mitt Romney's lame attempt last December to stick up for his Mormonism.)

If Obama wins this election, I thought, this speech might deserve a lot of the credit. How lucky for him that Rev. Wright's hateful sermons cropped up and bitch-slapped him. If Wright didn't exist, I thought, Obama might have to invent him, just to be able to talk about him.

But then as I looked over some of the coverage this morning I began to wonder.

Most of the analysis was full of praise for Obama and the address. See this New York Times story, for example. But Mickey Kaus, writing in Slate, dissects the speech to find a lot of avoidance and doublespeak. And Shelby Steele, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that appeared yesterday before the speech, wrote provocatively and insightfully, I thought, about Obama and race, about the inherent bargain that he has struck with white voters. The dare-you-to-look-away hook for Steele's piece was that Geraldine Ferraro was right: Obama wouldn't be where he is today if he weren't black.

For a political junkie, it has all been great fun to watch and think about, with more twists and turns to come.

M&M-ville, I wonder what you think about all of this. Is "the race issue" helping or hurting Obama? Or is it the other way around?


freda said...

I don't know why I can't get the sound, I checked my computer and it says sound is loud, but it is lying to me. anyway. I think Barak Obama is a brilliant speaker, up there with Kennedy and Clinton. You can think of eight politicians in this country who can really be considered brilliant orators, I can only think of three, and those are the three. I think to say Barak Obama is where he is because he in black in a country with such rampant discrimination against blacks, is silly, he is where he is because he is a brilliant orator. Yes, it is exciting because he is a brilliant orator and he is black and he is a viable candidate. It is a shame that we have a great black candidate and a great woman candidate at the same time, I wish they could have come consecutively, but I am grateful they have come at all. About time. How exciting to have two candidates we want instead of having to decide which one we hate most.

Jason Bellamy said...

Mark: Thanks for posting the full video. I'd wanted to watch and hadn't had the chance.

I, too, read a similar mix of praiseworthy and critical reactions to Obama's speech, but that's to be expected in political coverage, especially during election season. One op-ed in the Post called it a "speech that fell short," and I agree with a lot of the arguments made within.

Still, I was impressed by Obama (full disclosure: he's been my favorite candidate long before we got into primary season). Here, in a time when candidates give stump speech after stump speech, Obama gets to the 16-minute mark before the crowd responds with applause. And it's not because it took him that long to say something applause-worthy, it's because his comments had such momentum and (wow!) gravity that I think people were stunned still.

Sure, the current administration hasn't set the bar very high, but I feel that Obama is an engaging speaker more than he's a thrilling orator. This will sound like a cheap knock on Bush, but one of the keys to Obama's public speaking is that he so clearly understands the words he's using. By comparison, Bush goes word to word like someone struggling with a foreign language. Obama already has the conclusion in his mind when he's five minutes into the speech. He sees the big picture.

Now, clearly Obama had help with this speech. He didn't sketch it out like Lincoln with the Gettysburg Address. But he understands the message beyond the words. And he believes his message. That much seems obvious. Bush has proclaimed himself "The Decider," but do any of us really believe that he makes any weighty decisions on his own without folks whispering the answers in his ear? By comparison, Obama here comes off like a West Wing president - like some sort of super hero ideal.

Does Obama dodge? Certainly. But he brings Wright back into the conversation more than once, when he could have left him behind, and he condemns Wright more than once. But then he dares to call Wright "family." And then he lectures blacks on their "complicity" in their condition. And then he lectures whites. And then he makes the most astute point of all, which is that this Wright flap is a distraction from the real issues. So, yeah, there are some dodges. But in my view Obama is avoiding a Randy Johnson fastball to the face by taking it in the shoulder instead. It's a pretty ballsy dodge, as dodges go.

What's almost ironic here is that Obama - the guy who has run on feelings (hope, etc.) more than issues - chose this moment to dive headfirst into a mud pit of issues that most politicians are too scared to approach. He was on issues overload. (Wright is not an issue. He's not running for office.)

Anyway, this has turned into a ramble. Until now, I wouldn't say that race has been a significant component of Obama's success; I think Ferraro was wrong. But I'm pleased to see that when the race issue presented itself that Obama didn't shy away from it. My respect for him increased with this speech not so much because of the ideals he expressed but because of the way he expressed them. It was a moment. That's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars which have been transfered FROM US TO THEM. All over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They just keep getting richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductible crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. So don’t fall for any of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductible contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGenerous, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. No offense fellow citizens. But we have been mislead by nearly every public figure. WAKE UP PEOPLE. THEIR GOAL IS TO WIN THE GAME. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. High energy prices. Their idea. Obscene health care charges. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. The multi-million dollar endorsement deal. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea. Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, create a dominoe effect of socio-economic problems, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTIBLE PR CRAP. In many cases, the 'charitable' contribution is almost entirely offset. Not to mention the opportunity to plug their name, image, product, and 'good will' all at once. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. These filthy pigs even have the nerve to throw a fit and spin up a misleading defense with regard to 'federal tax revenue'. ITS A SHAM. THEY SCREWED UP THE EQUATION TO BEGIN WITH. If the middle and lower classes had a greater share of the pie, they could easily cover a greater share of the federal tax revenue. They are held down in many ways because of greed. Wages remain stagnant for millions because the executives, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, and entrepreneurs, are paid millions. They over-sell, over-charge, under-pay, outsource, cut jobs, and benefits to increase their bottom line. As their profits rise, so do the stock values. Which are owned primarily by the richest 5%. As more United States wealth rises to the top, the middle and lower classes inevitably suffer. This reduces the potential tax reveue drawn from those brackets. At the same time, it wreaks havok on middle and lower class communities and increases the need for financial aid. Not to mention the spike in crime because of it. There is a dominoe effect to consider. IT CAN'T WORK THIS WAY. But our leaders refuse to acknowledge this. Instead they come up with one trick after another to milk the system and screw the majority. These decisions are heavily influensed by the 1% club. Every year, billions of federal tax dollars are diverted behind the scenes back to the rich and their respective industries. Loans from China have been necessary to compensate in part, for the red ink and multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth to the rich. At the same time, the feds have been pushing more financial burden onto the states who push them lower onto the cities. Again, the hardship is felt more by the majority and less by the 1% club. The rich prefer to live in exclusive areas or upper class communities. They get the best of everything. Reliable city services, new schools, freshly paved roads, upscale parks, ect. The middle and lower class communities get little or nothing without a local tax increase. Which, they usually can't afford. So the red ink flows followed by service cuts and lay-offs. All because of the OBSCENE distribution of bottom line wealth in this country. So when people forgive the rich for their incredible greed and then praise them for paying a greater share of the FEDERAL income taxes, its like nails on a chalk board. I can not accept any theory that our economy would suffer in any way with a more reasonable distribution of wealth. Afterall, it was more reasonable 30 years ago. Before Reaganomics came along. Before GREED became such an epidemic. Before we had an army of over-paid executives, bankers, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, and sold-out politicians to kiss their asses. As a nation, we were in much better shape. Strong middle class, free and clear assets, lower crime rate, more widespread prosperity, stable job market, lower deficit, ect. Our economy as a whole was much more stable and prosperous for the majority. WITHOUT LOANS FROM CHINA. Now, we have a more obscene distribution of bottom line wealth than ever before. We have a sold-out government, crumbling infrastructure, energy crisis, home forclosure epidemic, 13 figure national deficit, and 12 figure annual shortfall. The cost of living is higher than ever before. Most people can't even afford basic health care. ALL BECAUSE OF GREED. I really don't blame the 2nd -5th percentiles in general. No economy could ever function without some reasonable scale of personal wealth and income. But it can't be allowed to run wild like a mad dog. ALBERT EINSTEIN TRIED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. UNBRIDLED CAPITALISM ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK. TOP HEAVY ECONOMIES ALWAYS COLLAPSE. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The American dream will be shattered. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH MAKES WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman.. Of course, they will jump to small minded conclusions about 'jealousy', 'envy', or 'socialism'. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

Mark said...

How exciting: our first crazy, long-winded, off-topic, CAPS-LOCK political rant. Can nut-job tit-for-tat bickering be far behind?

We've made it!

Look out, Technorati rating, we're on the march. T-shirts and the M&M Global Relief Fund to come.

Mark said...

Jason, thanks for the excellent comment post. You're a smart dude, and it's nice to see you showing up here from time to time.

A reminder to M&M readers: If you haven't already done so check out Jason's excellent film blog,

Rita said...

I was going to comment earlier but when I saw the un-ending anonymous diatribe, I chose to leave the follow-up slot to you.

Good job, by the way.

Like Jason, I was gong to say, 'thank you' for including Obama's speech, since I had missed it. It was good but to me it sounded more like another
"I've Got a Dream" speech in support of the civil rights cause.

If he wins, maybe the "This Time" speech will be partly responsible. If he doesn't, it may at least earn him a national holiday some day, or a street in every city named after him.

freda said...

you are so right Rita, nice one Mark

Lisa G. said...


Thank you for posting the link for Obama's speech. He is in Portland today but I wasn't able to go and hear what he had to say. This election is more interesting than some recent past ones. It is nice that Oregon's primary will actually matter for once. I enjoyed the comments here. Though Anonymous has to have trouble living each day with all that anger and I bet doesn't even play Monopoly. It is wonderful that we are in a place where thoughts can be shared.