Some thoughts on the Obama Speech

Obama gave what could be one of the landmark political speeches of my generation this week. I thought many parts of the speech were brilliant, and that he made an honest attempt at taking on the race issue, which is like lobbing a grenade into a chemical plant, and by and large did pretty well. I fully agree that there is a lot of systematic prejudice that NEVER gets talked about by the conservative side (the FHA insurance thing is as big as anything), and he told the story of African Americans going from slaves at our nation's founding to free a century later to full citizenship another century later masterfully. He calls on the country to change the context of the race dialogue, and (in part) for people to take responsibility for their actions. I commend him from the bottom of my heart on these points and more.

Where the speech was weak is symptomatic of Obama's campaign in general - he's great at telling us where we've been, but gives us little clue about where to go from here. For a campaign that has made "Hope" its moniker, I would think your vision for the future is pretty critical. Race relations in this country have come a long way, and they have a long way to go. How do we go about getting past them? How do we get to a point where "a man is not judged by the color of his skin, but the content of his character?" Obama blames the corporate culture and the tax structure for our problems (surprise), and by resorting to scapegoating as the punchline in an otherwise strong speech, Obama shortchanged himself. Then again, he's still learning, and he's a helluva lot better than Hillary.

There are a lot of qualities that I really like in Obama. I like that he takes a corroborative approach to leadership. For all the hoopla, he does run a different kind of campaign than the Bushes and Clintons have, a civil one that respects his opponents while making differences clear, and we could use more of that. I thought he performed brilliantly in the Austin debate.

Yes he's a liberal, but he admits that conservatives have good reason for their views. Yes his pastor is a kook, but Obama's words and actions are not in any way consistent with the Youtube videos of Rev. J. Wright. I think his theology is wishy-washy, but he's not running to be a theologian, unless something has changed with the establishment clause since I took my law final in December. His 2002 speech advising against the Iraq war was a brilliant and accurate argument delivered at a time when it was not in fashion to be against the war. He was editor of Harvard Law Review, and chose to be a public servant and community organizer when he had the chops to become insanely wealthy on Wall Street. On that count, he's the complete opposite of the power-hungry Hillary. He's been at the head of a smartly run campaign that is about to finish off an improbable and colossal upset over the Clintons for the Dem nomination. His experience, in my estimation, is every bit as good as Hillary's, unless you count her time as First Lady as experience, which would be like calling Yoko a Beatle. As far as we can tell, his ethics have at worst been better than most and at best have been superb.

Altogether, there's a lot of really, really commendable qualities in Obama. I don't think anything I wrote in the paragraph above is inaccurate. Though I may not vote for him in November, I would be proud to have him as President, and I would hope and pray that he would do a good job (and that no one dies or retires on the Supreme Court). I'm not alone in this sentiment among the Christians around me. As I've written in this space, there are things that give me pause with him (the Supreme Court foremost among them), but on the whole, I like him. McCain could earn my vote in November, but so could Obama. Let the best man win (and in my estimation, that's not yet clear).

I would have ended the speech like this:

"We face wicked problems in our society - climate change, decaying cities, broken families, predatory sub-prime mortgages, and a slumping economy. Government can't solve all our problems. The free market can't solve all our problems. I don't have all the answers - I wish I did, but I don't. What I know is that we can't solve them if we continue to fight the same stupid battles. In this nation's darkest hour, another tall, lanky man from Illinois who knew he faced problems far bigger than he could fix pointed out that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." After liberating the slaves at the expense of 600,000 lives, he called on Americans to unite, to find "the better angels of our nature" Today, I ask the same of you. We disagree, and we do so with good reason. Let's take a deep breath, tone down the rhetoric, realize that all want the best for this country that we all love, and with the better angels of our nature as our guide, let's work together, right and left, black and white, to tackle these issues. We won't solve them in a month, or a year, or even a decade, but we can move forward, as best we know how. That is the hope of which I speak, and by the words of our mouth, the work of our hands and the grace of God, I believe that this hope will be realized."


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