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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Barack Failed to Get His Groove Back

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First came the days of videos of his pastor and admitted close friend of twenty years Jeremiah Wright shouting hateful anti-white and anti-American comments in a virtual loop on cable stations. Then came a distinct drop in his poll numbers and Barack Obama knew he had to do something to stop the bleeding, so today he delivered A More Perfect Union, the speech he hopes will do just that. We'll see.

The speech was very much like Obama himself and his campaign so far; filled with impressive and stirring rhetorical flourishes. And empty as the vacuum of space. He needed to distance himself from Wright, explain his relationship with him, make it plain that he understands what is in the heart of the average American and show that the image he has tried so diligently to create of himself being beyond race is not a sham, that he is the real deal, the man who can unite and "heal" the country. Unfortunately for him his occasional minor successes made his major failures that much more starkly obvious.

Of course he had to and did repudiate Wright's paranoia and conspiracy-theory lunacy. He's running for President, not trying out to be the next guest on the Art Bell radio show. And he had to and did disavow the overt racism. The average White person is about as likely to vote for the guy who wants to get Whitey as is the Black person likely to vote for the White guy who thinks that "darkie" needs to be put in his place. He rightly and smartly made the point that "progress has been made", that the country that Pastor Wright sees is not the country we live in today.

But in trying to explain why he joined Wright's church and why he stayed he spoke sweetly and explained nothing. He basically said that since his experience showed Wright to be a caring friend, a source of encouragement, that he has done good works; the fact that he also happens to have a hate-filled, racist, deranged streak can be forgiven. No, Barack, it can't. The country that Jeremiah Wright is so filled with rage about (and which he still thinks exists) is one where a man could tithe his pay, teach Sunday School, love his wife and children and also agitate for Blacks to sit in the back of the bus. Wright is what he hates. If any White politician were to accept such a person into his inner circle today that politician would be condemned and probably driven from office. He would deserve to be. Barack Obama would probably be leading the charge.

The greatest failure of the speech however is that it proves (and quite conclusively, too) that Obama is not the man who can bring people together the way he says he can. Those videos of a hate-filled Jeremiah Wright, a man of God whose calls for damnation for America have far greater resonance and deeper meaning than if spoken by some non-religious shouter, were not taken before Barack Obama met Wright. They had known each other for well over a decade when they were made. The shouts of approval from the congregation were issued by the congregation that Obama has belonged to as long as he's known Wright. These were and are his friends and neighbors. And in all that time Obama has not been able to convince them to move beyond their resentment and hate. Nowhere in the speech does he even talk about his having tried.

How then can this be the man to bring the nation together? One of Barack Obama's main campaign themes is that he is a man who will "reach across the aisle" to get things done. But the reality is, he's had the chance to do just that in the Senate and hasn't. Now he says that he is the man who will move people away from the old racial ways into a new and better day. Once again, he's had the opportunity on a small scale and (if he's even tried) he's failed. Should inaction and/or failure really be the ticket to the most powerful office in the world?

Cross-Posted at Liberty Pundit

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