Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Obama Says What He Has To

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Says What He Has To

I saw parts of Barack Obama's speech today, and I thought it was quite effective. I started to write, "It seemed to do what it needed to do," but then I realized that this was far too lame a cliche. What is it, exactly, that this speech needed to do? There are a couple of things. Most immediately, he needed to put some space between him and his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He did that quite effectively, I thought, but he did it without denouncing and rejecting him. Obama had enough grace to make clear that though he doesn't accept the comments that have gotten so much exposure for Wright of late, he still holds him in respect. He tried to provide a context for the comments and the controversy. This is dangerous territory, because Obama's own comments can (and will, if they haven't already) be taken out of context to be used against him. But Obama has raised the bar in discussing race. He has to avoid being the affirmative action candidate, but he can't pretend that we're beyond race, so colorblind that race isn't an issue, either. I think he pulled it off. If you haven't seen it, the Obama campaign makes it very easy to watch and read.

Part of the process of judging a speech like this is how it plays, and we've got to give it time to filter through public opinion. William Douglas of McClatchey Newspapers talked to analysts who thought "Obama may have righted his shaken presidential campaign with his bold speech on race." The New York Times editorial page compared this speech to Lincoln's and Roosevelt's inaugural addresses and Kennedy's 1960 campaign speech on religion. The Huffington Post rounds up a lot of positive comment. For the negative response, Kevin Drum goes right to the source, the National Review blog The Corner, where you can find the expected bile.

But how will this be playing by Friday (which counts as long-term nowadays). That's when we'll get to know the true effectiveness of Obama's efforts.


At 7:18 AM, March 19, 2008, Anonymous Ron Ladouceur said...

After reading a couple of hundred posts on Kos, Salon and NYTimes, I conclude the following:

The speech, unmediated, moved many (myself included) to tears.

The speech temporarily stunned the media, even Maureen Doud.

Initially, Obama was compared to MLK, JFK, LBJ, even Lincoln.

Joan Walsh and other media players, looking for an angle, asked, "did Obama just throw his grandma under the bus?"

Hillary supporters and other Obama haters started jumping up and down on this bus.

The most important, or at least most interesting, speech by a politician in our generation was then made safe for our commercial media space.

And we're already back to where we were yesterday morning.

If I had to guess, I think Obama will be nominated, but he will not be elected. We, not just the goddamn US, but the whole goddamn world, will be the poorer for it.

At 9:34 AM, March 19, 2008, Anonymous Dirk said...

I'm just not sure how much the commercial media space matters.

At 7:04 PM, March 19, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

Ron, why do you think Obama will get the nomination but lose the general? Will the Republican attack machine be so effective that McCain will ultimately be able to beat whatever generic nominee the Democrats can offer? Will the majority of the American people come to the conclusion that they can't vote for a black man? A little of both?

At 10:04 AM, March 20, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

Doug, Obama will get the nomination (I think) because the Convention/Supers cannot at this point afford to disenfranchise mobilized youth and African-Americans. However, I think he will lose the general because he is black, and Americans have finally noticed that fact and now realize if they elect him they will have to face Jesus!

Back at you. What do you think about Obama now? The race speech, though certainly calibrated and calculated, proved to me he is the real deal. I was quite relieved to find I wasn't simply a star-struck groopie.

At 12:59 AM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

I was very impressed with the speech. He didn't go for the easy answers but treated the subject of race as the complicated, difficult subject that it is. No easy answers. No "can't we all get along." And no assumption that he's covered this now so he'll never have to talk about it again.

My main problem with Obama all along was that he was still an unknown quantity and that progressives everywhere could fill his blank slate with their own vision of who they wanted him to be, only to be disappointed down the line when he was his own man.

He's out there now getting tested, and to my eyes he's holding up pretty well. There's still more we'll see and discover about him as we go along, but I'm much less concerned that he'll end up being a disappointment.

As for the electability question, I find seductive the argument that the voters who will vote against Obama because of his race are in parts of the country and states that aren't likely to vote for a Democrat anyway. There will certainly be some of that, but Obama may be able to put together winning coalitions to overcome that racist vote. Of course, I've been seduced by things I shouldn't have before.

At 8:17 AM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

Obama 08 = McGovern 72?

That is the question.

Obama's real troubles began when Michelle triggered a backlash among white lower/middle class voters extremely sensitive to criticism of "our" country with her intemperate remarks about being "proud for the first time." These voters fled to Hillary in Ohio, and I suspect we'll see them hold steady for Hillary in Pennsylvania.

Like I said, Obama will probably still get the nod. But he is damaged goods. With a Perot in the race, I do not believe the youth vote + the black vote + the progressive vote (which will all go to Obama) will be able to counterbalance the lower class white + business class vote. Unless McCain seriously self-destructs, he will be the next president.

May God have mercy on our souls.

At 8:18 AM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

Of course I meant, "Without a Perot in the race ..."

At 9:12 AM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

Though not in so many words, you're essentially saying that Hillary is right in her quest to win over the superdelegates to get the nomination for herself. Would we do any better than Obama in a general, or do you think that we're looking at a McCain administration no matter what at this point?

At 7:19 PM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

I'm saying what you say??!!! Hell no!!! Former big guy, don't you be putting those words in my mouth!!!

You tease!

The Obama campaign is and will continue to be a transformative event in US history. Whether he wins or not, (and Richardson did give me a faint breath of hope ... there's that word) he has shown us the promised land. He may not get there with us ...

At 10:05 PM, March 21, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

You're right, Ron. Although you provide reasons why Obama may not be able to win, you don't even mention Hillary. Given the highly charged atmosphere of the campaign, I should point out that I didn't mean that as an insult, and I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I read this first thing this morning, and that was my reaction then, but looking at it now, it doesn't seem entirely fair.

So on a second try, would you say your position is more that the fight is worthwhile, no matter what the outcome?

At 10:05 AM, March 22, 2008, Anonymous Ron Ladouceur said...

I don't use exclamation points unless I'm having fun!!!

No insult taken. None. None at all.

And yes, most definitely worth the fight. In fact, this morning a fair degree of optimism has returned for me. Of course, I'm reminded of the bet I made at about this time in the last presidential cycle. A bet, with the loser paying $5 to the winner's political party, that John Kerry would win. I'm still on a list that addresses me as a great supporter of the Republican party.

At 12:52 PM, March 22, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

I didn't think you were honestly insulted, but on rereading my comment, I though it could be fairly be read with an edge I hadn't intended when I wrote it, so I wanted to clarify.

I remember that bet, too. In fact, I may have been in on it myself (but I'm not as honorable as you and didn't follow through). It sure looked like a sucker bet at the time, before the Republican attack machine went into full gear.

At 4:49 PM, March 22, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

So, has that attack machine got enough gas for one more run?

At 4:50 PM, March 22, 2008, Anonymous Ron said...

After "the speech," some said we may be looking at the new "TeflonĀ® president." Whadya think?

At 12:33 PM, March 23, 2008, Anonymous Doug said...

The attack machine is a perpetual motion device. There's no question they have more than enough gas for another run (and runs well into the future). The only unknown is how effective it will be. Obama has seemed good at deflecting the blows, but the machine hasn't even warmed up yet. People don't always buy into what the attack machine is selling--it didn't work during Clinton's impeachment--but that's never stopped it from polluting the campaign environment to the best of it's ability.


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