No matter what your politics are, no matter who your candidate is, and no matter how you feel about Jeremiah Wright, this is a truly remarkable speech. Read the whole damn thing. My thoughts and the meat, after the jump.
Obama on Race and Jeremiah Wright
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
I posted my thoughts on Jeremiah Wright over the weekend, but this really reinforces my perspective. In addition, however, I've come away honestly impressed with the boldness of Obama.
I'm one of those people who proudly, if somewhat ironically, bears the label "cynic". I've seen Barack Obama in person, shaken his hand, and listened to his extraordinary rhetoric and, honestly, it did very little for me. At first, I regarded his remarkable oratory as something of a distraction. Later, I came to see it as a valuable political commodity. Today, I can genuinely say I was moved by his speech. I regard it as one of the most unflinchingly honest assessments of racial attitudes in America I've read from anyone -- black or white, politician or academic -- in quite some time.
What makes it all the more remarkable is the political chutzpa it took. To take on race so directly, so honestly, risks alienating everyone. It is unheard of in contemporary politics. One misstep. One tiny slip.
And only time will tell if he made the "slip," which very unfortunately is dictated by how the media splices and contextualizes the speech. I hope -- and this is truly wishful thinking -- that anyone who reads the whole speech will be impressed or at least touched by what seems to be perhaps the first candid discussion of race in American life by a serious Presidential candidate in my lifetime.