Obama, race, and the road from here


The New York Times today reports on how the Clinton campaign is trying to use the Jeremiah Wright issue to convince superdelegates that it could foul the Democratic Party's chances in November.

That argument could be Mrs. Clinton’s last hope for winning this contest.

Writing in the Nation, Bill Greider has plaudits for Obama:

His words should discourage the media frenzy of fear-driven gotcha. His speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday may also make the Clintons re-think their unsubtle exploitation of racial tension. But nobody knows the depth or strength of the commonplace fears streaming through the underground of public feelings. No one can be sure of what people will hear in Obama's confident embrace, beckoning Americans in all their differences, leaving out no one, to a better understanding of themselves.


The essence of the blues, as I learned to understand, is what Barack Obama accomplished in that speech -- the beautiful and hopeful wrapped in pain and sacrifice, the despairing truths about the black experience in America that mysteriously exalt the human spirit when we hear the music. We don't need to understand why or define the meaning. In this case, Obama himself is the expression of what we are feeling. His speech will live on as a complex, exalting memory, whatever happens, because what he said about us is true.


Remember, this is a very shrewd politician, not just highly intelligent and worldly, but wise about himself. He must have understood fully the nature of what he was doing in this speech because all of his life he has coped successfully with the dangerous cross-currents of race. In that speech, Obama was taking all the risks onto himself, going where no one had dared to go before in politics with awareness he might personally pay a price. That is what leaders do, isn't it?

Yet it would be naive to think that the Wright issue isn't going to linger or be simplistically resurrected down the road.


As Dan Kennedy notes:

The point is that it's all too easy to imagine some "independent" Republican group making a devastating ad out of the Obama-Wright connection this fall.

Continuing his Presidential Tote Board column, Steven Stark, writing in this week's Phoenix, sees promise and peril for Obama:

And being part of an historic movement that could well elect the first black president gives many voters (both black and white) an enormous sense of community. When Obama proclaims, “Yes we can,” what he’s implicitly saying is, if this nation can take the historic step of electing a black president, anything is possible (including putting aside partisanship, setting up national health insurance, etc.).

The media, too, have been caught up by these emotions. Yes, the press has fallen for many a charismatic candidate before, from Teddy Roosevelt to JFK and beyond. But when Obama receives similar adulatory treatment, the suspicion among some traditional Democrats is that it’s due to race.

Fortunately for Obama, he has time to deal with these impressions. What he needs to do, really, is use his rhetorical skills to construct a new narrative for himself, one that quietly places his story and ideals in a setting and motif that better resonates with working-class whites. His stump speech is brilliant in its appeal to some Independents and the young, and he did well Tuesday dealing with the issue of race in Philadelphia. But it’s only a start, and his large crowds and pulpit style reminiscent of protest rallies may now be alienating many voters that he has to reach to win.

The truth is, to get where he is today, Obama — in Winston Churchill’s words — has had to expend a lot of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. But unless voters can picture that very traditional American struggle for themselves, he will have a terrible time trying to get elected.

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