The chattering classes continue to review Barack Obama's 45-minute speech today on race. The TV pundits' instant response was overwhelmingly positive, but it was almost certain to be. The current campaign narrative sort of required that response: they beat up on him for a week, then presented him the opportunity to redeem himself. Because Barack Obama is a brilliant writer, he did a good part of their work for him. Of course, the speech was, in this narrative, supposed to make everyone forget that he has a "nutty pastor." What Obama was trying to do with it was a little different, but that doesn't matter. As you can see in the Slate headline roundup above, people are still talking about the nutty pastor. So, the conventional wisdom, at the moment: it was an awe-inspiring, wonderful, magical speech, but it won't "work."
Because no one wants to be seen as enough of a rube as to be impressed by fancy talk anymore, everyone needs to point out niggling flaws in the Great Race Talk.
John Dickerson (who liked it) says he mentioned Geraldine Ferraro too many times (we thought the mentions were diplomatic and smart) and that it wasn't fair to decry YouTube when YouTube made him have to deliver this awesome speech.
New Republic senior editor Michael Crowly says "Barack Obama gave a brilliant, inspiring, intellectually supple speech—but one that may have done little to solve his festering problem with working class white Americans."
Writing at WPNI's new black-oriented Root, political science professor Michael C. Dawson says a similar thing, but makes the point that Obama's deft comparison of black resentment to white working class resentment is a bit too kind to the racist attitudes that pervade the latter. Though of course he'd say that, he's black.
The "straight news" write-ups of the speech, if Times scribe Jeff Zeleny's piece is any indication, will focus largely on Obama's repudiation of Wright, which we read (and saw) as a mere intro to the points he was actually making. It was also the weakest part of the speech, especially when he reminded everyone that he loves Israel and hates the terrorists (but, as we said, that was an aside).
(Amazingly, professional asshole blogger Mickey Kaus, who just wanted Obama to throw the entire Black community to the curb, was basically dead-on in his prediction that Obama would toss the "anti-PC" crowd a bone in the beginning and then move on.)
Rich Lowry, writing in The Corner, has already declared it "The Throw Your Grandmother Under the Bus" speech, and we award him our first annual award for outstanding achievement in the field of purposefully and hilariously missing the point and trying to hurt America.
We saw the speech as an attempt to rebuild the way we talk about race as a nation, a way that is still fractured—one way for these mythical "whites at the dinner table", one way for blacks in churches, one way for academics and liberal arts students, and finally the depressing hand-wringing OJ trial way it's "discussed" in the media. The pundit reactions all seem to acknowledge the necessity of that discourse-altering goal, but none of the reactors have Obama's rhetorical tools, so we're just stuck back in the feedback loop.
Obama totally defused the "pastor" thing as a press issue, but no one who doesn't read the damn speech for themselves will have any idea of what he was actually saying.