Everybody’s talking about Barack Obama’s landmark speech.

The reviews for the most part are gushing — praising Obama’s courage (if lack of political nous) for not disowning his controversial pastor’s comments, but rather picking at the scab of race relations in America to acknowledge a still weeping sore.

“As far as I know, he’s the first politician since the Civil War to recognize how deeply embedded slavery and race have been in our Constitution,” Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School in New York State who has written extensively about slavery, race and the Constitution told The International Herald Tribune.

Transcripts of the speech shot to the No. 1 or 2 spots on the most-e-mailed lists of virtually every major US newspaper or broadcast Web site. USA Today said that an article on the speech attracted more comments in 12 hours – 7,502 – than any article ever.

Some pundits say this is the issue that will sink Obama’s campaign — whether the risky speech will help Hillary remains up for debate — but it has started an unprecedented conversation in the US.



I read the various posts here on “The Corner,” mostly pretty ho-hum or critical about Obama’s speech. Then I figured I’d better read the text (I tried to find a video of it, but couldn’t). I’ve just finished. Has any other major American politician ever made a speech on race that comes even close to this one? As far as I’m concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant–rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we’re used to from our pols…. But you know me. Starry-eyed Obama groupie. — The Corner, Charles Murray

A smart colleague notes that this speech is the polar opposite of this year’s other big speech on faith, in which Mitt Romney went to Texas to talk about Mormonism, but made just one reference to his Mormon faith. Obama mentions Wright by name 14 times. — The Politico, Ben Smith

I think I have to dissent from David’s view that Obama didn’t bring his A-game to the speech this morning. I was only able to listen/watch out of the corner of my eye because I was on deadline for something else. But my sense was that the tempo and tenor was suited to the occasion. The kind of stirring delivery he’s made a trademark of in his victory celebrations would not have been appropriate for the moment. — TPM, Josh Marshall

…the bigger and more basic reason the speech was a success is that Mr. Obama, like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before him, has something powerful and rather rare working in his favor: Most Americans instinctively like him and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. And Mr. Obama delivered for them on Tuesday… what Democrats forget too often is how easy they’ve made the Republicans’ job in past elections. Neither John Kerry nor Al Gore nor Michael Dukakis nor Walter Mondale nor Jimmy Carter (the 1980 version) ever inspired any kind of personal affection from the electorate, the kind that would win them the benefit of the doubt when the mud started flying. But Mr. Obama does. And it’s why his response to the Wright matter, risky though it may have been by conventional standards, was a powerful one. The New York Observer

With racial sentiments swirling in the 2008 campaign–notably, Geraldine Ferraro’s claim that Barack Obama is not much more than an affirmative action case and the controversy over his former pastor’s over-the-top remarks– Senator Obama on Tuesday morning responded to these recent fusses with a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining–not excusing–Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself. — Mother Jones, David Corn

It was a moment that Obama made great through the seriousness, intelligence, eloquence, and courage of what he said. I don’t recall another speech about race with as little pandering or posturing or shying from awkward points, and as much honest attempt to explain and connect, as this one. — Atlantic.com, James Fallows

He did it. No other presidential candidate in the last forty years has managed to speak so much truth so eloquently at such a crucial juncture in his campaign as Barack Obama did today. And he did it by speaking about race, the most persistent source of hatred among us since America began.It turns out that a candidate for president with a white mother and a black father has a capacity that no one else has ever had before: he can articulate an equal understanding of black racism and white racism –and that makes it possible for him to condemn both of them with equal passion. — Radar, Charles Kaiser

But I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history. — Atlantic.com, Andrew Sullivan

Obama’s much-anticipated speech on race today hit the appropriate tone not just for addressing the Jeremiah Wright flap, but for framing the relevance of his candidacy in general. It was best in the way it framed the discomfort and resentment in the discussion of race in America that has lead to a “racial stalemate” for so many years, and made race “a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect.” — The American Prospect, Kate Sheppard


Back in the summer of 1990, however, a much younger Obama was interviewed for a feature in the Chicago Reporter about the lag in minority hiring by top Chicago law firms. Then in the top quarter of his Harvard Law class, slated to lead the prestigious Harvard Law Review, and a summer associate at Hopkins & Sutter, he told journalist David Rubenstein, “I certainly wouldn’t have a hard time finding a job in Chicago.” It was different for less-credentialed minority students, Obama said. He noted that “a lot of minorities go to state schools due to financial constraints” and wondered aloud when young minority attorneys would have the same right to be “mediocre” that their white counterparts had… — Slate Hot Documents


Could the American people truly accept a President who chose long-term affiliation with an organization that says that “Black Ethics…must be taught” and requires “Personal Commitment to embracement of the Black Value System” — not the American Value System, or the Universal Value System, or, pointedly, even the Christian Value System. Obama’s church publicly and unapologetically promoted a “Value System” based on racial identity, not common heritage or American patriotism… — Townhall  

What could be political trouble for him is that these are specific versions of the general question Hillary Clinton has been asking for weeks. Can’t you just hear her now, in the back of your mind, say in response to this speech what she has said dozens of times before? “I have been working on these issues for 35 years. My husband and I made real progress in the 90s. You can identify the problems, but what have you done about them?” Hillary Clinton did not invent this question. She is just exploiting it. The question is a real one that each voter must answer and weigh for himself. That would be the case regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton ever uttered “35 years” or not. — Jay Cost, RealClearPolitics

I have to assume that many white Americans have been attracted to him in no small part because he seemed to offer a narrative that would not take us into these discomfiting, cobwebbed corners of the American psyche. He seemed, as someone’s one-liner put it, “just the right amount of black”; like he probably belonged to a nice, genteel, interracial Episcopal church. Well, tough – he didn’t. And yesterday he basically told us why. He did so with about as much honesty as we have any right to expect from a person seeking the presidency. I am sure it helps us, as a society, to hear it all put out there with intelligence and subtlety. I am less sure about whether it will help him. — Michael Tomasky, The Guardian

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey