Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Personal Aside: Why the Obama Speech Didn’t Work Despite the Pretty Language.

Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia yesterday designed to douse the flames caused by his on-again, off-again disinheritance of and then endorsement of, Rev. Jeremiah Wright was pretty—but sorry, no cigar.

Moreover it is a case history of a political disaster. Obama was never stronger when he ran…as he did initially…as a man of mixed color untouched by the old racial bromides that pock-marked our society for fifty years. He was of a new generation. Not only is he lighter in complexion than the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, he is much younger, more free-flowing, less taken with himself with wit (something the senior Jackson at least never evidenced). Juggling the hand-mike before a rapt audience, Barack Obama looks like the new generation, unencumbered with the old hand-me-down racial stereotypes.

Then along comes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Laden with the old rhetoric he is a recycled Minister Louis Farrakhan. Whitey is the problem. Whitey is the only racist. In fact, whitey’s government smuggled drugs to people (a reference to the uncorroborated allegations that some Nicaraguan Contras peddled drugs), whitey this and whitey that. Well, let’s hear Rev. Wright speak for himself:

“Blacks should not sing `God Bless America!’ but `God Damn America!’ The government [sic] gives them drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a 3-strike law and then wants us to sing `God Bless America!” No-no-no, `God Damn America’—that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating our citizens as less than human”

How to handle this? Obama has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years. Wright befriended him, Wright is his spiritual mentor, Wright married him and baptized his kids. How to handle it?

The first thing Obama did to the media is to hide and not know anything about what the old man was saying. The next thing Obama did was to say it was taken out of context. The third thing came from Wright himself, telling the press last year that he and Obama had a talk and agreed that at a certain stage Obama would have to dissociate himself from Wright due to the nature of U. S. politics.

But then Obama decided not to handle the matter at all. The tame, lethargic and guilt-ridden Chicago press…afraid of its own shadow and terrified that…gasp!...they will be called racist by questioning these remarks…went underground on the issue. Finally, ABC-TV’s Brian Ross broke the story by simply going to Trinity and buying Wright’s DVDs. Big national story. When the story came out, Obama lied a few times—once saying he never heard Wright say this, then saying the remarks were taken out of context (well, they weren’t), then saying that Wright was like a nutty old uncle in the attic.

. As late as Friday he told Fox News he hadn’t heard Wright say any of these things. When he came to Chicago to meet with the editorial boards Obama came clean as much as he could on Wright and Rezko. Predictably Carol Marin blew him a kiss for being a loyal friend to both. And Cringeley, the head of the “Tribune’s” editorial board mouthed the same old same old about nobody should have to take the rap for what his pastor says. Which ignores the symbiotic relationship Obama has with this pastor—but Cringeley didn’t want his mushy paper to seem racist.

When Axelrod got through with Obama preparatory to the Philly speech, Obama had a rationale that contradicted the fibs he had given earlier about Wright—but the hell with it, he went with it. Lies like that when a politician is caught are usually venial and so were these. But the massive mistake was committed when Obama and Axelrod collaborated on a speech that is bound to do Obama in. Before the speech I would have said…hell, I DID say…that Obama was about as sure an elected president as there was given the exigencies of the time, the economy in the toilet, the nation’s fatigue with Bush et al. Now I must amend that. Axelrod and Obama have given the Republicans a sword to run Obama through with…if the GOP has the skill to do it (anyone’s guess).

The way to have handled the speech is like this. 1. Obama is an attractive, very attractive candidate, a kind of youthful guy who rises above the old stereotypes. 2. He is a lead pipe cinch to get all the black votes and 3. with his refreshing charisma he stands to get a great share of white liberal votes, maybe a goodly percentage of white centrist votes and even, who knows, possibly some stupid conservative votes (who knows?). The main thing he has to do in the speech is to dissociate himself with the black racist nut vote. Obama has already called Wright the nutty uncle in the attic.

There. That’s not so hard to figure out, is it? So the speech should have been like this: (A) I have made some mistakes in my time and one of the biggest was when I was a young community organizer. I found a church and in my then innocence hung around with a pastor who was my friend, married Michelle and me and baptized our kids. (B) But where I made a mistake was with Wright’s politics. It used to be that Wright talked about Jesus Christ. I was interested in Christianity. Then Wright deviated into racial politics. That’s when I should have figured it all out. Oprah did. Why didn’t I? Dunno. But I didn’t.

(C). So to make everything clear I disavow all this stuff about America that Wright has been saying. (Then he could use t he stuff about America that Obama did refer to in the more salient parts of the speech). (D) The windup: Because Wright has politicized the church in ways with which I don’t agree, I will leave Trinity and will go shopping around for another church. No hard feelings about Wright who is still welcome if he wants to come over to my house for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but sorry…and this has taken too long…I disavow the black racist stuff as much as I do white racist stuff.

End of speech. Now what would happen if he delivered this? The first thing that would happen is that Wright and the black/white revolutionary loonies would attack Obama. That, I submit, would be the best thing that could possibly happen to Obama. All this time the Clintons have tried to paint him as a black candidate for president just like Jesse Jackson. With this speech they will have failed.

Do you think for a minute that Barack Obama would lose a whole lot of black votes by saying this? Of course not. Only a wild fringe with whom he should not be associated anyhow. If you think black America is going to rush to Hillary Clinton over Obama you’re very-very wrong. And the giant rushing sound you will have heard would be the rush of white independents and a large number of Republicans to his side. As the Jeremiah Wrights fulminated, the votes would mount in number.

Now if this is apparent to me…an old codger…why not to two bright guys named Obama and Axelrod. I’ll tell you why.

It’s obvious that Obama buys into Wright. Therefore Obama made probably the worst mistake a presidential candidate has made since Gerald Ford in his 1976 debate said Communist eastern Europe was in fact part of the free world. Here is the utterly disastrous line:

“I can no more disown him [Wright] than I can my white grandmother—a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world—but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

HUH? Are we to assume that in his mind there is equivalence between his white grandmother and the pulpit pounding racist, bigot who god damned America? Conversely are we to assume that Obama links 12.4% of the population…comprising African Americans…with this loony Wright?

The fact is, I deduce, that Jeremiah Wright’s fulminations have more than convinced Obama and his wife. Listen to Michelle on the occasion of an Obama primary victory: “For the first time in my adult life I am proud of America!”

Consider these quotes from “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”:

1. “It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day t han most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere. That’s the world! On which hope sits!”

2. “And so it went, a meditation on a fallen world. While the boys next to me doodled on their church bulletin, Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and the state house.”

Now here is a news dispatch from last June, reporting on a speech Obama made at Hampton University, a predominately black college to a black ministerial convention.

“Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse a `quiet riot’ among blacks that threatens to erupt just as riots in Los Angeles did 15 years ago.

“The first-term Illinois senator said that with black people from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast still displaced 20 months after Hurricane Katrina, frustration and resentments are building explosively as they did before the 1992 riots.

“`This administration was colorblind in its incompetence,’ Obama said at a conference of black clergy, `but the poverty and hopelessness was there long before the hurricane. All the hurricane did was to pull the curtain back for all the world to see,’ he said.

“Obama’s criticism of Bush prompted ovation after ovation from the nearly 8,000 people gathered in Hampton University’s convocation center…Repeatedly he referred to the riots that erupted in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four police officers of assault charges in the 1991 beating of Rodney King, a black motorist, after a high speed chase. Fifty-five people died and 2,000 were injured in several days of riots in the city’s black neighborhoods.

“`Those quiet riots that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths,’ Obama said. `They happen when a sense of disconnect settles and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across the country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get better.’

“He argued that `once a hurricane hits or a jury renders a not-guilty verdict the frustration is there for all to see.’”

Who does he sound like? If you think it’s a cleaned up version of a certain Chicago minister you get a cigar.

The answer: Essentially Barack believes this stuff.

That’s why now there’s an outside chance the party that hasn’t gotten a majority of white votes for a long time will continue in its ways unless McCain screws up

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