Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech

[Adapted from an email to some friends....]

I don’t think it’s THAT hard to find problems with Obama’s speech. A lot of people seem very put off that he threw his grandmother under the bus, even if he had done so before. (Charles Krauthammer made the additional point that there’s a world of difference between muttering a slur under one’s breathe and exhorting racial fury in a crowd of people.)

[Added later: Reader_Iam comments: "Also, I will now, here, state publicly, that I may be one of the few people in the ... universe who does NOT think Obama "threw his grandmother under the bus." I totally disagree with that analysis, as it's being stated and used, and I will stand by that."

Actually, I didn't take it that way either, initially. Obama had, after all, already written about this topic publicly. After reading Kaus' take, though, I may have changed my mind.

Implicitly equating his grandmother's soto voce racism and the bombastic exhortations of Rev. Wright feels like a rhetorical dodge. It reinforces the "crazy uncle" rhetoric that had been Obama's previous line of defense while glossing over salient differences. First, whipping up racial hatred in an impassioned public forum is much more divisive to the body politic than whispered hard feelings, especially if one is literally preaching to the choir! Second, as an adult one can chose one's minister, but we're all stuck with family. Yet Obama choose this minister over and over again for 20 years.

But the casually implied "Grandma used to call black people n******" cuts off critical lines of thinking when hearing the speech. One reflexively thinks of the young mixed-race grandchild of that woman and the deep hurt such words must cause. Interestingly, he's managing to infantilize himself ("Oh, that poor baby!") while at the same time convincing people of his great maturity for speaking of such things. A damned fine rhetorical trick!]

But the best take I’ve read about the speech was Mickey Kaus’ dissection at Slate. He highlights some definite problems with the speech.

A somewhat rougher (by which I mean both rude and evil) take on the speech can be found here. Udolpho is a hell of a lot more direct about race than Obama, and he’s not wrong that Obama is benefiting heavily from the double standard that doesn’t allow anyone other than minorities to speak about race.

Finally, I’m still having trouble with this: How is he supposed to bridge the racial divide in this country (which is supposed to be one of his selling points) if he’s spent the last 20 years being mentored by a “Hate Whitey” black separatist? In all seriousness, if it turned out that a white candidate had been going to a racist church for the last 20 years would he have even been given the chance to redeem himself with a mealy-mouthed speech?

[Icepick]

PS The biggest beneficiary of this last week has been McCain, but not because Obama’s been permanently damaged. (The people that would be most put off by this event aren’t going to vote for him anyway, and the media and white guilt will take care of the rest.) But McCain has seemed old and tired at times this week, even having a ‘senior moment’ during his trip to Iraq. Having the spotlight elsewhere has been a boon to him.

PPS And if you think I’ve got problems with Obama, consider this: I still find him the least objectionable major candidate left in the race. I’ll probably just cast a write-in vote for myself this fall.

2 comments:

reader_iam said...

I think Kaus' take was pretty legitimate, not that I'm saying I'd agree with it in every respect.

I was very gratified that he noticed the interesting construction of "not only wrong, but divisive," which I myself noted and even e-mailed someone else about before his post appeared--though, it's true, I did so in context of discussing a different point.

Also, I will now, here, state publicly, that I may be one of the few people in the [appropriately contextual] universe who does NOT think Obama "threw his grandmother under the bus." I totally disagree with that analysis, as it's being stated and used, and I will stand by that.

Enough for now ... .

Also, I haven't read the Udolpho link yet.

reader_iam said...

P.S. The McCain thing is, indeed, troubling.