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March 25, 2008
In that speech which Barack Obama’s acolytes hailed as a highlight in the past half century of American political history, I believe Sen. Obama left unanswered three major questions.
Why had Obama failed to quickly condemn his longtime friend and pastor’s “God damn America!” rhetoric? (Obama’s initial reaction was to condemn his opponents for raising the issue.) Instead he waited until public outrage forced him to make a major statement distancing himself from the rhetoric which his pastor had been spewing for a good many years?
Why had he waited so long—more than three years into what amounted to a pursuit of the presidency—to make a major speech on the broad subject of race relations in America?
And why, in his belated focus on race relations, did he not address the fact that race is an important factor in his pursuit of the presidency?
I believe that Obama would be regarded as a more candid candidate if he had said something like this: “Speaking of race as an issue that must be addressed by Americans of all political and social persuasions, I would include the issue of race in my presidential campaign. I would, of course, be proud to be the first black elected to be president of the United States. But I cannot emphasize too strongly that I want to be elected as a qualified candidate regardless of race, a qualified candidate to lead this country as a president who happens to be black.”
A statement something like that would finally acknowledge that Obama’s race—a factor which can cut both ways, of course—is a factor in his presidential campaign—a factor evidenced, for example, by polls showing that about 80% of blacks who have voted in Democratic presidential primaries voted for Obama. Obama’s race clearly is a dominating plus with black voters—and, I would add, an important plus with some liberals including especially younger liberals.
Figures from the Democratic presidential primary voting in Texas showed a broader picture: Polling-place exit interviews indicated that 89% of Texas blacks said they had voted for Obama but a majority of whites—and a majority of men—voted for Senator Hillary Clinton. So his race is a factor, and why not publicly acknowledge it?
In last week’s major speech which I think didn’t go far enough, Obama did finally persuasively spotlight race relations as one of the major continuing problems facing this nation but, typically, offered very little in the way of specific ideas of what he would do about it if elected president.
Once again, he pointed to a lofty mountaintop of needed national achievement but gave little indication of how he would lead the nation up that mountain.
Worshipful reaction to his speech from his supporters (CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer, for example, said the speech marked March 18, 2008 as “a significant day in American political history”) overlooked some realities. The speech, it seems to me, was more a case of Obama attempting to make a virtue out of necessity rather than a bold decision to break new ground in the presidential campaign which he has, in effect, been conducting for the past three years.
It was increasing public attention to his continuing close relationship with his pastor of 20 years (a pastor perhaps best known for his arm-waving sermon which included “God damn America! It’s written in the bible! God damn America!”) that finally forced him to go public with some kind of explanation of his continuing friendship and respect for Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
While Obama’s speech included language which, in broad terms, focused appropriately on the need for improving race relations, with greater understanding from all parties, there were touches which were simply sleazy.
I have in mind particularly his bringing his white grandmother into the act. He said he would no more disown his longtime friend and pastor than he could disown his own white grandmother, who had loved and raised him but made racial remarks which upset him.
Columnist Michelle Malkin accused Obama of distorting the truth by likening the Rev. Wright to a “lovable family member who cannot easily be renounced.” Columnist Malkin continued:
“Well, you can’t pick your grandma, but you can pick your pastor. And Obama picked the wrong one if he aspires to be the president of all America—America that includes citizens of all colors who cringe at self-serving racial rationalizations masquerading as moral salvation.”
In contrast to a white radio talk show host who told CNN listeners that “every American should be pounding their chests” in pride that Obama had created “a very unique moment in American political history, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had this to say:
“The candidate may have stanched the bleeding, but it did not heal the wound. His naïve and willful refusal to come to terms earlier with the Rev. Wright’s anti-Americanism, anti-white and pro-Louis Farrakhan sentiments—echoing his naïve and willful refusal to come to terms earlier with the ramifications of his friendship with sleazy fund-raiser Tony Rezko—will not be forgotten because of one unforgettable speech.”
Dowd also wrote: “Obama did not surrender his pedestal willingly. But he was finally confronted by a problem that neither his charm nor his grandiosity could solve.”
There was good showmanship but more than a little hypocrisy, it seemed to me, in Obama’s decision to give his speech in Philadelphia close to where the United States Constitution was drafted and with half a dozen or so large American flags in standards behind him as he spoke.
This, you may remember, is the candidate who, for reasons only he seems to understand, during his campaign stopped wearing a small replica of the American flag in his lapel.
* * *
Today I offer another of my occasional lectures in Journalism I.
I used to refer to these occasional remarks as being part of a Journalism 101 class, but they seem to me to be so fundamental that we need to go back to freshman-year Journalism I.
Would Omaha journalists please stop misleadingly referring to support for a new downtown baseball park with language like this: “Mayor Mike Fahey wants to build a $140 million downtown ballpark as a way to keep the College World Series in Omaha for upwards of 20 years”?
The problem with the “Mayor Mike Fahey wants to build” language is the fact that a good many other Omahans also want such a ballpark to be built. It is misleading to present the issue in terms of Omaha’s mayor against those who, of unknown total number, are given major news media coverage when a relative handful of them show up at a public hearing to voice insults, threats and boos.
I suppose some readers continue to be fascinated by additional detail about the pathological young killer who continues to get the notoriety he sought when he killed eight people including himself almost five months ago. But couldn’t we just call him Hawkins now instead of the endlessly-repeated “Robbie”?
“Robbie” seems, to me at least, oddly inappropriate for the brutal killer into which a youth nicknamed “Robbie” had become. And among the multitude of “Robbie” references in the latest detailing of the young killer’s final years and months and days and hours, we read that his mother recently recalled remarks directed to him last November—remarks in which she had addressed him not as “Robbie” but as “Robert.”
* * *
Following my remarks in regard to a relative handful of boorish hecklers dominating a public hearing on the question of building a downtown ballpark as a College World Series site, I think it’s particularly appropriate to offer a reproduction of a Jeff Koterba cartoon which last week I said I would include in this week’s column.
Typically, no explanation is needed when The World-Herald’s Jeff Koterba demonstrates once again the old adage that sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
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