Obama’s Transcendent Challenge, and Ours

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Here’s my take on Obama’s exceptional speech, which defied the usual conventions dictating how candidates should manage a crisis in their campaigns. In addressing the controversy over some of the language in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Obama put a new twist on his message of hope about a post-racial politics in America: he said America’s not there yet, and that his candidacy, even if it succeeds, isn’t enough to bring her there. Rather than try to counter the injection of race into the campaign, Obama administered an extra dose, hoping the live virus can also act as a vaccine.

Because politicians don’t often try to initiate serious discussions about race in America, I was reminded of one such effort that took place more than a decade ago. Remember the President’s Initiative on Race, Bill Clinton’s well-intentioned promise to move America’s race relations beyond a static paradigm? The effort faltered, then fizzled, then disappeared in the maw of the Monica scandal. Here’s a piece I wrote about Clinton’s Initiative at the time.