March 18, 2008

Obama on Race and Religion

Video and transcript of Obama's big race speech, delivered in Philadelphia today (no, I wasn't there) is now available from the campaign web-site. I haven't taken time to watch the whole speech, but I read the transcript and watched the highlights that Richard Chapell posted on his blog. His speechwriters deserve to be commended. (I have this foolish hope that perhaps he wrote it himself, but this is not the norm in modern American politics.) It is a fine example of rhetoric in the good sense: the skillful presentation of actual substantive content in a moving and inspirational way. Furthermore, it shows Obama's ability to relate to a wide spectrum of the American electorate. He also deals head-on in a very intelligent and balanced way with Rev. Wright's offensive racist remarks, while explaining why he nevertheless maintains his connection to that church.

In the video, Obama's presentation of the text is quite competent, although after reading the transcript I had hoped for better rhetorical skills on his part. Still I think he pulled it off better than most modern politicians could. The sound-bite culture has all but destroyed the art of rhetoric and, as Richard points out, it is not clear whether this speech, though truly excellent, will actually positively effect the electorate, since no one has the patience to sit through all forty minutes of it.

On the downside, however, Obama merely shows understanding of our problems, not real solutions. Furthermore, of course, I personally happen to disagree with nearly all of his policy positions. However, after watching this speech, my overall respect for him and my estimation of the effect he will have on the next few decades have greatly increased. I recommend that everyone read or watch what he has to say.

Posted by Kenny at March 18, 2008 6:25 PM
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Your belief that Obama wrote it himself is not foolish: according to more than one newspaper, it was he, not his speechwriters, who composed the speech.

For example, in a laudatory opinion piece entitled "Obama's Lincoln Moment" in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten writes of the speech: "It was all the more remarkable because, while Kennedy presided over what may have been the greatest speech-writing team in electoral history, Obama -- like Lincoln -- wrote his address himself, completing the final draft Monday night." (I would post a link to it here, but your website warns me that this would probably result in my post being marked as spam.)

Of course, it is conceivable that the Obama campaign has lied to reporters about who wrote the speech. Barring such dishonesty, though, there is every reason to believe that Obama wrote the speech himself.

Posted by: Eden at March 19, 2008 5:13 PM

Jodi Kantor of the International Herald Tribune also reports that Obama wrote the speech himself. I've added the URL as my personal URL, so you should be able to access the article by clicking on my name.

Posted by: Paul Ferree at March 19, 2008 5:45 PM

Thanks for pointing this out. For other readers, the LA Times piece to which Eden refers is here. This is a truly fantastic piece of work. Now if only I agreed with his actual policies...

Posted by: Kenny at March 19, 2008 7:52 PM

I do believe that speech had content and I agree with you that there really wasn't really any policy or ideas on how to overcome it. Also I think he left a lot of unanswered questions that the electorate wants to know. Exactly when did Obama know his Reverand held these ideas and is this Theology part of the reason he joined the church (or was it just politics)?

Posted by: vangelicmonk at March 22, 2008 4:53 PM

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