Daily Archives: March 21, 2008

Some Political Consequences of Obama’s Speech on Race

Despite my changing political views, I still read some of the same right-wing blogs. I’ve decided that it’s a useful life skill (and a useful political skill) to be able to understand the opinions of others.

Obama’s recent speech on race won’t change anything in the minds of the right. To some of them, Reverand Wright is the black equivalent of David Duke. Wright is a racist. And it is not just that Obama is associated with him, but that Wright is a mentor and has had a very close relationship with Obama. Some on the right believe Obama has the same views as Wright, and some think that Obama showed a serious lapse of judgment in choosing to associate with a racist. Either way, the stigma of racism has been attached to Obama.

There is a further issue in this, that involves the previous actions of the left. At Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday, Trent Lott said that Thurmond would’ve made a good president. Yet at the time Thurmond wanted to be president, he was an ardent segregationist. Lott suffered for these remarks. He was forced to apologize and lost his position as majority leader. A much smaller offense sunk Lott; they think it should equally sink Obama. In fact, if it doesn’t sink Obama, it reveals a double-standard. It says that it’s okay for black people to be racist.* That leads to further resentment.

The speech does nothing to change this. No speech can change the fact that Obama has a 20 year relationship with this “racist” Wright. Couple this with the resentment, and it doesn’t look good for Obama. It provides the right with a rallying point; it will energize them when they wouldn’t otherwise be energized. That’s the bad news.

But let’s take a larger view. To demonize the opponent is the modus operandi of the Republican Party. First there were rumors that Obama was Muslim, then they tried to portray him as a flag lapel pin hater, and now Obama is supposedly a racist. It’s all the same tactics. Obama is the other and he is unpatriotic. This is how they would portray him regardless of Reverend Wright’s existence. With or without Wright, we’d still be in the same (swift)boat.

The next question is: How did this affect independent voters? How did this affect Democratic voters? I cannot answer the first question.

Part of the second question’s answer is that the speech definitely energized Obama supporters. It made us remember why we support him. He’s a thoughtful, brave politician. He dealt with race in an incredibly nuanced way, which no other politician has dared to do. He won’t approach this issue in the same old way. In a word: Change. We’re hungry for change, and he delivered. More importantly, it assuaged our fears of the sinking of Obama’s campaign. It certainly assuaged any misgivings Richardson might have had.

As for how it affects Democratic voters who have not yet pledged their support to Obama, I cannot judge that either. I have not studied their opinions enough.

When the election finally rolls around, I think the war and the economy will be bigger in the voters minds. However, I cannot say that with confidence. I have nothing on which to base that assertion, except the fact that March to November is several eternities long with our modern news-cycle.

*For the record, I think a black person who suffered through segregation deserves to be judged by a different standard than a white person.