Blogs > Liberty and Power > Obama on Race in America

Mar 18, 2008 11:49 am

Obama on Race in America

Just finished watching Obama's response to the Rev. Wright controversy. He gave a very good talk, both in terms of content and in terms of him trying to extract himself politically from the situation. The text can be found here (at least for the time being).

The one comment I'd make off the top of my head is that his rhetorical strategy of invoking, in a positive way, the Founders and the Constitution and suggesting that their general vision was right even though it was corrupted by slavery, will lead some to (rightly I think) compare this talk to King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. King's use of Biblical imagery as well as references to the Founders gave that document much of its rhetorical power by calling whites to account by their own value systems.

To be clear, I'm not saying that it is the equivalent of King's Letter, just that this rhetorical element may bring forward those comparisons.

Obama's explicit comparisons between the anger of Wright's generation and how it plays out in African-American churches and the anger of white Americans about ongoing economic change (which Obama has misdiagnosed, but that's another story) or perceptions of reverse discrimination seem to come from a similar sort of place: I understand why you are angry and you need to understand why we are angry and, by your own ideals, you should want to recognize the source of our anger and join in addressing it.

In any case, the speech will continue to get talked about and we'll see if my prediction about comparisons to King's Letter hold up.

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Anthony Gregory - 3/19/2008

I thought it was an important point he made: That some people have bad views, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't associate with them or learn from them.

Aeon J. Skoble - 3/19/2008

Ok, mystery solved! Thanks for clearing that up.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/19/2008

I did, in fact, remove comments (by banning a user account) which were a kind of rabid anonymous political spam, in violation of HNN comment policy in several different ways. When the comment system hides things (as opposed to deleting them), then the comment count on the article doesn't drop. I caught them quickly, and on Hawai'i time, so probably none of you were awake and looking at the site in the short time they were up.

Jonathan Dresner
HNN Assistant Editor

Anthony Gregory - 3/19/2008

I don't know; I think anti-American-baiting is pretty common.

David T. Beito - 3/19/2008

The best argument for Obama is that all the defenders of the war hate him so much. They hate him to such an extent that they are willing to prop up Hillary to stop him.

Craig J Bolton - 3/19/2008

The thing that strikes me as strangest about this controversy is that no where have I heard the crys of "McCarthyism," which, for a change, seem well justified on these facts.

Let's see: Obama has a minister who has also been a long time friend who has "unacceptably leftist" views, therefore....... Well, obviously, therefore, Obama is also some sort of Commie Pinko subversive unAmerican who agrees with every particular of his friend's views and who is clearly unfit to be President.

If someone other than a Clinton came out with this sort of "reasoning" they would be shouted down so fast that it would make your head spin, but that would be someone else, not a Clinton.

John Kunze - 3/19/2008

He could not have come up with a more compelling example. He was able to speak personally of her love for him.

David T. Beito - 3/19/2008

If they did, nobody told me about it.

Steven Horwitz - 3/19/2008

My question as well. If I had to guess, perhaps one of our editors deleted a few that were in questionable taste?

Steven Horwitz - 3/19/2008

Yeah, because whatever his numerous flaws, King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is excellent in both his call for non-violent resistance to the state and boycotts of private sector discrimination. He also makes clear the difference between just and unjust laws and our moral obligation not to obey unjust laws. Anyone who believes that "law" and the "what the state says" are distinct can appreciate this sentiment:

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

In other words, my praise in this context was for that particular piece of King's writing, not for King in general.

Aeon J. Skoble - 3/19/2008

Why does the post header show 9 (now 10) comments when there are only 4 (now 5) comments?

s k m - 3/19/2008

Today, Barack did the SINGLE WORST THING anyone could have done.. He defended (on CNN, with a loooong monologue speech that he read off teleprompter and paper on podium) his continued association with Rev.Wright.
And proceeded to FURTHER drive the wedge deeper into society.. not just with blacks, now with american indians, whites..

He did not own his words. He needed a teleprompter and papers.. after 4 days+ (since Fall 2007 since the issue first started) to create his position. He has not done anything to earn THIS PODIUM to even read to this issue. He has never spoken on this before.. except use Bamboozle, hoodwink and brother to get votes.

Particularly Barack.. who led a well-privileged life.. he could have used the same podium to heal the people... NO! He used his grandparents who doted on him to justify his endearment to Rev. Wright.

DONT FORGET: He did not help turn the heat on for the poor suffering people in the 11 buildings in his own district, even though he had total influence both thru his state senate office and thru his friend Rezko who owned the building. These are very large apartment complexes with literaly hundreds of people in each building. No Joke! No kidding.. It is not humane!!


Any religion Only goes to reinforce what is already inside.. The pulpit is a powerful podium to reinforce the negative or the positive... You can let the positive win out.. but a pulpit that reinforces the negative is NOT one to be associated with.

Barack stayed there.. stayed silent for 20 years...



BARACK is UNFIT for Presidency. Furthermore, if he is going to run for any political office, he NEEDS TO EARN IT BY REPAIRING THE DAMAGE HE HAS CAUSED TO CIVIL REFORM!!!!!

Here is a starting point: Turn on the heat for the tenants!!!!! There are hundreds of people in each of those 11 buildings in his own district where he was a state senator.

Then, he can start owning the words a bit and do some work with ALL COMMUNITIES regardless of color.. Go start the Afghanisthan committee you signed up to 15 months ago.. and then come around and start begging for Vote.. MAY BE.. for the state senate.


s k m - 3/19/2008

The unveiling of the REAL BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA


Hannity speaks up with investigative report.

Volume 1 - The Real Barrack Hussein Obama 1/2;feature=related

Volume 2 - The Real Barrack Hussein Obama 2/2;feature=related

and Press (Lou Dobbs) with some candor.
Obama, you CHOSE your racist pastor & church!;feature=related

and the truth in that ending statement there "what he says now is pretty much irrelevant."

Obama is unfit to be Senator much less President;feature=related

s k m - 3/19/2008

Glenn Beck put it so well just now in an interview of a kid who made it out of powerty in 6 months. When you play the victim, you end up being a slave..

All that 20-years of hatred and anti-americanism.. and NOTHING -- NADA -- ZILCH -- to do REFORM inside out.. and serving up victim speech... does not qualify Barack to be senator!!

s k m - 3/19/2008

This is what change he has achieved??

Tenants were left without heat for five weeks

… A family “boiled water on the stove and draped plastic sheeting across the windows in an effort to keep warm during the city’s bitter winters, as the heating was not working.”

… There was drug selling and prostitution.

… The buildings were filthy and rat- and roach-infested.

… There was urine and feces all around.

… Rubbish piled up uncollected.

… Repeated requests for basic repairs were ignored.

… There were drug dealers all around.

…. People were fighting and getting shot.

… Tenants had to call the city just to get the garbage collected because Rezko and his company ignored their requests for help.

… Rezko moved on — turning away from the TAXPAYER-FUNDED “rehab” projects (he got over $100 million) and all of its tenants — with many buildings boarded up as bills and mortgage payments went unpaid, and Rezko going into the fast-food business.

… And Sen. Barack Obama turned a blind eye.

He has not done his job as State Senator..

He has not done his job in the Afghanisthan committee... for 15 months!!!


s k m - 3/19/2008

We must put the speech in the context of both the campaign in progress and the fact that Barack first DENIED knowing/participating in any sermons that had hate speech/anti-american statements.

Just yesterday, there were two news alerts that idnicated that his claim of "unaware" was falsehood.
“Obama Attended Hate America Sermon
Sunday, March 16, 2008 7:14 PM
By: Ronald Kessler
Contrary to Senator Barack Obama’s claim that he never heard his pastor Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. preach hatred of America, Obama was in the pews last July 22 when the minister blamed the ‘white arrogance’ of America’s Caucasian majority for the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. . . . In fact, Obama was present in the South Side Chicago church on July 22 last year when Jim Davis, a freelance correspondent for Newsmax, attended services along with Obama. In his sermon that day, Wright tore into America, referring to the ‘United States of White America’ and lacing his sermon with expletives as Obama listened. Hearing Wright’s attacks on his own country, Obama had the opportunity to walk out, but Davis said the senator sat in his pew and nodded in agreement. “

******After Barack challenged the above, Newsmax reporter stood his/their gound, with tis alert***
The Trinity United Church of Christ bulletin for July 22, 2007, service attended by U.S. Senator Barack Obama included a letter from a Hamas leader, an organization the U.S. has declared to be a sponsor of state terrorism. This is just one quote from the church bulletin "The sticking point of 'recognition' has been used as a litmus test to judge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel’s 'right' to exist, when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees?
NewsMax is not backing down. NewsMax update:
"The Obama campaign has told members of the press that Senator Obama was not in church on the day cited, July 22, because he had a speech he gave in Miami at 1:30 PM. Our writer, Jim Davis, says he attended several services at Senator Obama's church during the month of July, including July 22. The church holds services three times every Sunday at 7:30 and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time (with weekly praise/prayers starting 15 minutes previous to those times). While both the early morning and evening service allowed Sen. Obama to attend the service and still give a speech in Miami, Mr. Davis stands by his story that during one of the services he attended during the month of July, Senator Obama was present and sat through the sermon given by Rev. Wright as described in the story. Mr. Davis said Secret Service were also present in the church during Senator Obama's attendance. Shortly before publication, Mr. Davis contacted the press office of Sen. Obama several times for comment about the Senator's attendance and Rev. Wright's comments during his sermon. The Senator's office declined to comment."

Stephan Kinsella - 3/18/2008

Steve, you wrote, "To be clear, I'm not saying that it is the equivalent of King's Letter"

Why are you being so careful to equate these--it's not as if King is some libertarian hero. Is there some reason you would want to avoid being accused of equating Obama and King?

David T. Beito - 3/18/2008

Perhaps it is a minor point. I generally liked the speech. Still, I would never use the example of a living elderly relative in that way, especially one who had raised me. Then again, I suppose I should give him some slack given the fact he is a politician. Again, it was a good speech.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/18/2008

I think you're exactly wrong about that, David. He explicitly explained that he could no more throw his pastor than he could his grandmother "under the bus." His reference to her fears of African American men was neither ungraceful nor distasteful. Quite the contrary, I thought.

David T. Beito - 3/18/2008

It was a pretty good speech though Obama's remark about the racist statements of his white grandmother (who helped raise him) was in very poor taste and shows a lack of grace.