Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Train Wreck that Wasn’t

Last week, I blogged, “Who will be the Democratic Party’s nominee?” and answered my own question, “Obama, unless he has a train wreck.” Well, this week, the Obama Express collided with Big Media over Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary remarks. Taking his fate into his own hands, Obama delivered a speech that will hold up for generations - right along with Lincoln's second Inaugural Address.

The speech was masterfully crafted and delivered. First, the craftsmanship. A brief walk through the horror house of American race relations reveals a struggle with race from the very beginning up to the present moment.

In just a few words he sets up the debate between progressives and conservatives on the U.S. Constitution – is it written in the stone of original intent, or is it a living breathing document meant to be perfected over time through trial and error, struggle and strife? Obama chooses the progressive path toward a more perfect union.

He juxtaposes his grandmother and Jeremiah Wright, concluding that he can reject neither of them. Obama compares the anger and disappointment of blacks to that of working class whites - finds both legitimate, but ultimately unsatisfying. Instead, he finds hope in the promise of young people – never explicitly using the term “change” but finally indicting Jeremiah Wright, not for his anger, but for seeing America as “static” and thus, unchanging.

The delivery was smooth, personal, passionate. His fiercest critics may not be sated, but even they will have to give Obama credit for candor, scholarship and leadership. For those who want to believe, the speech was more than enough.

Back in the 1990’s Bill Clinton launched a conversation on race. He told PBS, “And my theory…I think the more people work and learn and, and worship, if they have faith, and serve together, the more likely you are to, to strike the right balance between celebrating our differences instead of being afraid of them and still identifying common values."Well, we don’t follow his theory. For the most part, we don’t work, live, worship or serve together. We mostly talk about each other, not to each other. I work closely with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. White visitors are rare – white members rarer still.

Barack is already pulling us together. My husband swears that white people he meets on the streets of our exurban Georgia town are friendlier, quicker to look him in the eye and speak. He thinks it is the Obama effect.

My (white) neighbor and I who share the same profession had never spoken to each other in two years of living next door until I got a puppy for Valentine’s day and named him Barack. She proudly told me that she had hosted a Barack fundraiser and thought about (but did not) invite me. Now, we talk to each other several times a week. I think it is the Obama effect.

Will the speech be enough to get the Obama Express back on track? The Jeremiah Wright collision upended the campaign. But conductor Obama is listed in improving condition and hope is still alive.

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