If you haven’t seen it or read Obama’s speech from Tuesday morning yet do. It’s fantastic. Don’t believe me? I’ll explain.
First of all, he’s done a brilliant job of taking a scandal that could have destroyed his campaign, and when I first heard about it I thought I’d have to start following progress on the Libertarian ticket again, cut through all the mamby-pamby bullshit and called it for what it was. Anybody else would have said, “Oh dear me, I had no idea he was secretly a black radical, I was busy helping widows and orphans on that particular Sunday morning. I assure you, I’m very sorry I ever had anything to do with him, and I’ll cross the street to get away from him in the future.” Instead he laid it out; he was wrong, I disagree with him, that doesn’t make him a bad human being and I’m entirely too decent to ditch him for political gain. I respect that on several levels and like it particularly because it’s proof that Obama is the upstanding guy he’s been campaigning as. You don’t get better proof than being willing to take a hit rather than throw a friend under the bus.
Beyond that, he laid out his disagreements and reminded everybody that his style and approach didn’t jive with the 1:30 youtube clip at all. He demonstrated that he keeps his advisers in context and then critically engages the advice and points of view he gets (as is only proper for U of C folk). I think I can say quite honestly that I would murder for a president willing to think critically about the advice he gets, then keep the good stuff and chuck out the rest. There are lots of things I’d murder for, but this is pretty high on the list, and I’d expect to be let off for this one since I’d be saving so many lives in doing it.
He did a fantastic job of describing facts about social divisions that I was under the impression were obvious to everybody. After spending two days listening to/watching commentary about it I’m convinced that either that isn’t true, or pundits and reporters all live with their heads in the sound. Come on people, my 85 year old white Southern Grandmother knows black churches are raucous and use charged rhetoric; she’s prone to whispering about how different it is, but so interesting, as she marches off to her fairly stuffy white Baptist church three times a week – not that she isn’t having fun at Church. I’m certain she has no concept of how black churches developed, but she knows that her equally white and significantly stuffier sister generally drives 45 min to go to her tamish black church because that was her husband’s church back when the congregation and surrounding area was white and they didn’t see any reason to change churches just because the demographics shifted. (I might be misremembering this and getting the Aunt confused with a neighbor, but I don’t think so) At the same time, I haven’t met a black person who didn’t know that affirmative action pisses off white people. I’ve met plenty ready to get into a knock-down drag-out fight over it the second it got mentioned, and more than a few who felt victimized by it, so I don’t see that being an obscure point either.
So after stating the obvious very, very nicely, what does he do? He points out that he’s just stated the obvious and if people really, really want, they can go ahead and obsess over it. This is where he starts getting in the meatier bits and highlights policy things and my skin did a bit of crawling because there I’m not so much a fan. It’s a beautiful piece of rhetoric, though. He literally stood up in front of the entire country and said, “Well, you can keep squabbling over who gets the Mickie Mouse towel, but I’m planning to go to Disneyland and if it doesn’t happen because you wouldn’t shut-up and get in the van, well, don’t blame me.” And he did it without patronizing his audience. There was a very nice threatening quality to it, a sense that if you don’t start behaving then you’re the architect of your own doom, but it was so subtle that I haven’t heard anybody mention it while doing their commentary. It is definitely tied for first place as my favorite part of the speech.
The other first place portion was his comment about Geraldine Ferraro. It was almost too decent of him, but he pulled it off. It will also make it a lot harder for Hillary to try accusing him of capitalizing on his race. Though, honestly, if it’s true that the only reason he’s been this successful is that he’s black then he’s got a magical ability to turn the biggest political handicap in American politics into an asset and that’s just one more reason to vote for him. That kind of reality distortion field might be enough to actually get us out of Iraq with some grace and aplomb. I want out, grace and aplomb are unnecessary garnishes, but they’d be nice.
I’m back and forth on the bit where he quotes from his book. On the one hand I haven’t read any of his books and wasn’t planning to, though I may have changed my mind now, so it wasn’t quite so bad as a professor reading several pages from the reading that was assigned for that class. On the other hand, I had that thought as I got to that part of the speech. It seemed much more academic than presidential and I’m not sure how that’ll go over well in the bits of the country that haven’t been terribly keen on the Obama band-wagon. It might have been better to plagiarize himself and just lift from the book, but then again, citing it as coming from something he wrote years ago, well before this scandal again bolsters his credibility as somebody who can be Rev. Wright’s friend without agreeing with him about everything. Personally, I like academics more than presidents so it worked fine for me, but I’m already hooked and would like him to go for people who aren’t.
The Ashley story was just plain cheesy, but so is he (rainbows and kittens for the win!), and he made it work. The sappy bits of his speeches where he cites real people are always the ones that I like the least. What can I say; my only good story about the races coming together involves dogs pissing on trees. Still, it did an affective job of giving a concrete example of the kind of unity he’s been talking about, and it carried the subtle, “This is part of the Obama-wagon” hint that slips right past your conscious brain and into the feel good parts.