In the Arena

Obama’s Speech

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I’ll have a lot more to say about Barack Obama’s stunning speech in my print column this week. Right now, though, the immediate, tawdry issue for the Obama campaign is this: How will the media play it? What will the sound bites be on the evening news tonight (especially the local evening news)? After all, the speech was delivered at 10:45 am, to a miniscule cable audience. Most people will never hear the elegant complexity of Obama’s speech in full…though they certainly should. As others have already said, it was the best speech about race I’ve ever heard delivered by an American politician.

It seems obvious to me that the emotional heart of the speech was this:

I can no more disown [Jeremiah Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him 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.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

I hope that the entire quote will be used (as it has been on cable news this afternoon), but I fear that only the first part–Obama refuses to disown Wright!–will be. The part about his grandmother is the real payoff, though: I’d say that most white people, over a certain age, have had grandmothers like that. (I had two such.) And I suspect most fair-minded white people who hear that section will understand: Obama can’t toss aside the pastor–who, after all, was probably a powerful father figure for a man whose own father disappeared when he was two years old–any more than I could, or would want to, toss aside embarrassing old Grandma Rae, who almost always produced some dreadful jaw-dropper at Thanksgiving.

In sum, Barack Obama made the question of race brilliantly personal–for almost all of us–in that one paragraph. But a paragraph is longer than a sound bite. I hope our colleagues over at the networks give Obama his due.

Update: I make this argument, and others, on All Things Considered this afternoon.

Surprise! Fox News just cut off the Obama soundbite at the end of the first sentence…then, later, added a shard of the business about his grandmother–in an accusatory manner, as in: he even accused his grandmother of being a racist…but then, they’re fair and balanced.