Guess it's almost required for a blogger to discuss Barack Obama's speech today trying to distance himself from his pastor of 20 years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I've seen people suggest it was the best speech on race by any major politician in our lifetime. It was thoughtful and measured, demonstrating an understanding of how difficult it is for both blacks and whites to communicate with one another, even after all the progress that has been made. I don't know if it will do what it had to do. It might have been too complex, maybe even too thoughtful for the degraded political discourse in this country. No 10-second sound bite to sum it up and all.
As good a speech as it was, however, I thought it showed a politician less open to real change than his generalized rhetoric suggests he wants you to believe. There was candor, but almost no departure from what I see as the straitjacket of pretty conventional liberal-left thinking. I have to admit that I'm always suspicious of any politician who stresses "unity." It almost always means get with my program or else, and this country is simply too large and too diverse to be unified about much of anything -- and thank the good Lord for that. We don't have common hopes, we have individual hopes and dreams, and the genius of this country has been to provide an environment in which people have at least a chance to work out their individual dreams and desires, and the result has been the richest and most inspiring country on earth. Common dreams are for fascists and authoritarians.
Obama seems to see political leadership as the key to improvement and government as the natural shaper and guider of aspirations, when things generally work out better when government has the good sense to get out of the way. He flogs the standard bogeymen of corporations and "special interests" without seeming to have an awareness that it is the size of government and its ability to hand out favors that attracts special interests like flies. He talks about education, but can't bring himself to utter the words "school choice," which every poll shows large majorities of blacks would prefer. He dropped hints about merit pay early on, but he hardly ever mentions it. I don't expect him to come out for separation of school and state, but it looks as if his solution is more of the same -- throw more money at a failed system, something we know won't help the children much at all (though it will get votes from teachers' union members).
The key to getting beyond racism is stressing individualism over tribalism and identity politics. Obama may sincerely want to move beyond racism, but I don't think he has a clue about how to do it beyond offwering glittering generalities.
Anyhway, here are some other reactions, from Andrew Sullivan (an increasingly unabashed enthusiast), Ross Douthat, Charles Murray, and John McWhorter. Comments, please. The more discussion on these topics the better.