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Sweet column: Obama speech great, but will it give him political cover?

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PHILADELPHIA -- Sen. Barack Obama delivered the speech Tuesday that may be the most enduring of his long presidential campaign.

He deplored the nation's "racial stalemate." He declined to "disown" the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose inflammatory rhetoric triggered a crisis that may derail Obama's White House bid, as he again denounced his pastor's words. He dared people to reject divisive rhetoric, get over blame games, declare race wars over and say "not this time."

It was a great speech.

And it would have been greater if it were not delivered because Obama was in a jam. But the enduring truths of Obama's words are important to acknowledge even if they may not provide him with the political cover he desperately needs at this time. His speech, magnificent as it is, offered moral guidance that may influence one's conscience but not one's vote.

The setting was apt, in the historic part of this city, near Independence Hall. The audience was handpicked to be a blend of races and religions and different walks of life.

Obama has not really ignored racial issues or the racial divide in the more than the year he has been running for president.

It was more than a year ago -- yes, that long -- that Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were in Selma, Ala., speaking at historic black churches about the bloody civil rights battles dating back now nearly 43 years.

"I must send greetings from Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.," he said from the pulpit of the Brown AME church, speaking about Wright, the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side. Ironic, because Obama, it turns out, knew from the early days of his presidential campaign that Wright could be a problem for him.

In January, Obama was at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta -- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s spiritual home -- after Nevada caucuses cracked open racial rifts as the Democratic delegate fight started a nasty trajectory. "Unity,'' Obama said, "is the great need of the hour."

And it still is. Now, the present: Obama was forced to give this defining speech because selections of Wright's sermons -- the poisonous parts -- burst out in the open a few days ago, and the videos don't lie.

Obama is lucky they did not surface earlier. He decided now is not the time to run from Wright, a man he considers family. As charitable as he was toward Wright, he had found no mercy for Geraldine Ferraro, the Clinton supporter and former vice presidential candidiate whose ill-chosen racial references were seized on by Obama's campaign and whipped up into a frenzy until she was forced to exit Clinton's campaign, her own legacy ruined.

Obama also raised more doubts. He admitted in his speech that he heard some of Wright's fiery rhetoric. "Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes."

Obama said something different on Friday, when he met with the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'll be honest with you. I wasn't in church when any of those sermons were issued." He went on to say, referring to Wright, "I had not heard him make such, what I consider to be objectionable remarks from the pulpit."

32 Comments

To the people saying that Ms. Sweet is distorting Obama's comments from last Friday, check out the last sentence of this column. Obama is clearly quoted as saying last Friday that he has not heard him make objectionable remarks from the pulpit. Then yesterday, he said he has sat in the church and heard him say controversial things. He is exposed as a blatant liar, and you people who criticized Ms. Sweet owe her an apology.

Senator Obama blew it.

He should have applied his own litmus test offered to MSNBC on the Don Imus fiasco. He failed and the majority of Americans now look upon this man with a keaner eye.

Why are the media and readers in the UK and Europe calling this a defining moment and saying how Barack Obama has raised the bar, but just some sections of our own media continue to search for holes in Obama? but the very same media don't ask the serious questions that voters want to see answered by Hilary, starting with her tax returns.

More breaking news! The blogosphere is buzzing with the revelation that one day after Obama gave a speech calling for improved race relations, his website still has an endorsement from the New Black Panther Party on it. It is not known how long the endorsement has been on there, and if the Obama campaign intends to take it off of its website. Forgive me for going off topic, but this is vital information that the voters need to have.

Forget "crazy uncles". Frankly BO welcomes this discourse as long as it keeps the Rezko donations off the table. What we can assume as certainty is Rezko attys. alerted BO to the contents of discovery in the trial. The details of money laundered through the political influence network to BO is the larger expose on "judgement" than napping in the pews while your deranged mentor incites hatred toward "rich white people".

Rezko Gavel to Gavel: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-rezko-court-story,0,7957753.story

What is so hard to understand about him having heard "controversial" remarks, but not remarks as objectionable as the ones being played on TV?

I've heard priests make controversial remarks that are certainly not as objectionable as the stuff Wright said on TV.

This is twice in two days you've misrepresented this. Why?

"It would have been greater if it were not delivered because Obama was in a jam."

I don't think this is a fair comment. It is that very "jam" that probably inspired Obama to collect his thoughts into such a powerful speech (which he wrote himself). I know that I often have ideas kicking around in my head but am not able to put them to paper in a cogent framework until some external event crystalizes things for me. I expect that is what happened here.

Check out the blog two blogs down about Bill Clinton's fund raiser and you will see my eloquent speech about how Obama called for Don Imus to be fired, yet still supports Jeremiah Wright.

Okay so Obama managed to get some more free air time to give us all an education about race and racism. That's nice. Does that mean now Hillary gets to expound on sexism? Somehow it's nobler to be a victim of racism than sexism? I think Shirley Chisolm has already answered that question. Meanwhile while Obama was working long and hard on his speech, our gal Hillary was speaking about the financial crisis that has hit our country, her specific plans on dealing with the war in Iraq, helping with the peace process in Ireland...Now do you want someone with an axe to grind or one who can wield one to get things done?

Obama speech did one thing, made him a black man running for President, instead of a man running for Presidents that happens to be black. He praise Rev. Wright, spoke down about his grandmother , and lied to the American people, when he said he never heard Rev. Wright speak on the pulpit such hateful word, then stated yes I was in the pew. Americans over look racist and sexist remarks, but they do not over look anti-American or anti-Semitic remarks. You are often judged by the company you keep, and the company Obama has choose to be with , one is a crook and the other is a racist bigot. If this info got out before Iowa, Obama would not be in the position he in now, that's why he hasn't been honest or transparent.

he had found no mercy for Geraldine Ferraro

Lynn -

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Obama's quote from his speech was:

We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

The equivalence here is between how both figures have been attacked - and the obvious implication is that those attacks are groundless.

He's defending Ferraro. How do you interpret his statement to mean he found no mercy for her? His basic message here is - our national discussion on racial issues is so disastrously dysfunctional that the best we can manage is throwing accusations across the media hoping to make each other look bad, and look where that's gotten us.

It bothers me that you've chosen to interpret what he said this way. Can you accept that maybe my interpretation of his words may be more accurate?

Lynn and Jerry,
Here's EXACTLY what Obama said in his speech after stating he had indeed heard 'controversial' comments:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/18/obama-race-speech-read-t_n_92077.html
"But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country...."

Now exactly what part of that do you not understand? Because I want your misinterpretation clarified NOW before it continues to make its poisonous way around the blogosphere.

It's been scrubbed from the Obama website, but you can see the Google cache here.

Odd column, again.
As Doyle posted Obama didn't deny having heard controversial remarks. Even in your partial quote the words are not denying any controversial remarks. Since I keep hearing this I read through transcripts of all the interviews since the excerpts came out. He has never denied that.

I am also surprised that someone from Chicago would blithely go along with allowing a whole church to be demonized for the sake of a gotcha on a candidate. The thousands of members surely deserve better, the outreach programs help the community (domestic violence programs, tutorial and computer services, offer better career development, college placement, financial counseling, bereavement services, drug and alcohol recovery and so many more) and yet you write as though the most volatile excerpts from hours of sermons are the whole of the story.

You say Geraldine Ferraro's legacy is ruined (though I'd debate that and he spoke against judging her in his speech) but again so many are willing to do that to thousands of congregation members of a church and the legacy of a candidate himself by allowing the distorted view through these excerpts to appear as though they are the whole of the story.

I think what made many less willing to overlook Ms. Ferraro's statement was it wasn't a one time thing. On Feb 27 on John Gibson's radio show
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9125136936804676151
as she was arguing for super delegates to go for Clinton she said "If Obama were a white man would we even be talking about this as a potential problem for Hillary?". Even Gibson asked her if she was playing the race card. She denied it then too by saying she was picked in 84 because she was a woman...which of course is not the same as getting millions of votes, but whatever.
Because of respect for her past no one made a big deal of it then, it was just uncomfortable. But when it came up again it had to be called, it was becoming part of a stump speech for her. (God knows he'd have gotten a lower %age of black votes if he were white but he'd have gotten a lot more white votes, probably 60% of both)
Honestly what clinched it was reading the 1988 Washington Post article where she said "If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race"

It doesn't make her racist exactly but it's not an appropriate way to refer to the success of a presidential candidate in getting votes,
I think Obama himself was very gracious, it's his supporters that got angry.

Re: the Rezko donations -- don't you think that's goiing to come out? I really resent that all this stuff happened at once, and the fact that Obama AGAIN raised the amount of "tainted" donations got lost in the pastor shuffle.

While the Rev. Wright is important, so are the Rezko dollars. Both raise serious questions about Obama's ethics and judgment.

There is nothing misrepresented here. What needs to be pointed out is that Obama, unlike any other presidential candidate involved in a controversy like this was given a full 30 minutes to pontificate. Geraldine Ferraro had to speak in crisp sound bite fashion during her race, and thereafter. So does HIlary. So Obama is being treated with kit gloves. And the reason he had to address race--is because he's been screaming about it ever since an irrelevant disc jockey made stoopid comments. Had Imus been ignored, he would not be so powerful today. Just let the racists eat more burgers--they'll be gone in about 8 years sorta on cue. But, not--then Axelrod and Plouffe piled on with the racist campaign strategy--and that's why we're here--discussing this stuff when the war is bankrupting the country in every way possible.

Why would anyone take seriouslya lecture on race relations from the unrepentant twenty-year member/ supporter of a racist/separatist institution? A speech on race from a man who would expose his innocent children to the foaming-at-the-mouth hatred and racism boldly proclaimed-- and wildly applauded--at Obama's church has no credibility AT ALL.
Obama consciously chose to destroy his grandmother's reputation to help advance his political career. That is all we need know about this vile and treacherous man.

Barack Obama gave what could be deemed as an eloquent and courageous speech the other day on race and racial politics in reaction to the controversy over the comments by his spiritual advisor and pastor of twenty years Reverend Jeremiah Wright. When you get beyond the words and style of the speech, however, questions still remain.

Obama stated that he could not denounce or disavow his pastor any more than he could distance himself from his white grandmother who he says made comments that he found to be divisive or derogatory.

I would suspect that his grandmother has never stated words that rise to the level of blaming America for 9/11, that this is the US of KKK-America, that we should not say God Bless America but God Damn America, and that the US helped South Africa put Nelson Mandela in jail. Yet Barack Obama’s pastor, who he has called his spiritual advisor, whose sermon he used for a title of Obama’s own book, and who baptized his children, has publicly made these comments.

I would also remind Barack Obama that one cannot choose one’s family but he does have a choice as to which church to worship at and what sermonizing to allow one’s children to be exposed to. Barack Obama chose a church in Chicago where the pastor has stated that people live in “white America”, who has met with known anti-American foreign officials and sponsors of terrorism such as Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, and who honored Reverend Farrakhan.

Throughout his denials over the past week, Barack Obama has repeatedly denied ever having heard directly any of the controversial statements of this pastor; that when his campaign started he only heard about a couple of the statements and then only heard about the rest in the past few days. Then in his speech, he stated that he WAS there for some of these remarks, without stating specifically which ones, and he claimed that while he was bothered by some of these statements, he never discussed it with Pastor Wright. So, was Barack Obama lying when he stated he did not hear about these statements or is he lying now when he says he did? And if Barack Obama could not stand up to his Pastor when he released his anti-American vitriol, how can we count on Barack Obama to stand up to those blocking our withdrawal from the Iraq war, who are not for universal health care, and to those who wish to do harm to this country and their allies?

Notwithstanding a speech that most say was done well, this issue goes far beyond the delivery words. It’s about delivering integrity and sound judgment - on both Barack Obama has failed.

“The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation,” –Barack H. Obama, March 14, 2008

“Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes.”
Barack H. Obama, March 18, 2007

Wake up, America!

Nice Speech. When will the Obama campaign apologize to Ferraro? It is appalling that Barack apparently does not 'get' how sexist and biased the media was to Geraldine Ferraro during her campaign, and during his own. A much younger, less experienced man was allowed to speak by our nation's news media for nearly 30 minutes. Ferraro had to deliver what she was saying largely in sound-bite fashion. And then it was twisted into something it was not--and by his own campaign operatives! I am saddened Obama has not yet denounced the McCarthy-like destruction of a Congresswoman who did a lot of good for the cause of civil rights during an era in which it was not to HER benefit to do so. The Ann Curry er, interview with Ferrari is the best example, in my opinion, of how biased the media angle on her comments were. Even John Stewart played more of the preceding contextual statements to Wrights comments than he did of Ferraro's comments. Conspiracy? No. Just our national misogyny as usual. And, it appears that no matter how many minorities and women we get in the newsroom, the privileged male message continues to predominate.
ttp://video.msn.com/dw.aspx?mkt=en-us&from=truveo&vid=255b5926-4a07-4dd9-b843-9509fa93bc84

So, let's get this right. The candidate fails to release his affiliation with a guy who nearly trashed his chances to get elected (and still might once all the media fawning about the speech is over) until after all the other viable choices between Hilary and Obama (both Iraq war supporters if you wach their voting patterns) are out of the running. Then, when it blows up, the networks give him massive, lengthy airplay so he can get his point across in full context. When was the last time someone was treated so well by the news media? Particulary during a political campaign?

How can it be a great speech when all he did was use GRANDMA as a crutch and throw her 'under the bus', as they say. And to appease the black racists, he made sure it was his WHITE grandmother at that. How sad. And you wonder why he's lost 9 points in the latest poll.

Honestly this is what the speech described, there is the constant teardown and destruction of Men such as B.O. and Mr. Wright, we as a people have never wanted trouble, but it is brought to us in the form of predatory lending and mis- appropiated funds for our schools, streets and neighborhoods, you don't want to unite or intergrate our differences into the 'Melting Pot', it serves more if these differences remain a glaring reality that serves as the antagonist to the ever deserving "pro", We have many a issue in the Black Community but when we reach out for help there is none to be given, so as much our tradition since our existance in this land we look inward, and sometimes we get it WRIGHT, and still on a many an issue we are wayward, but we are trying, and we are still more accepting of other from outside our communities for help even after the painful words languished upon us are gone, as opposed to the many of you who move and abandon your own homes to run away from us, it is complex---but know this, internally at the heart we are the embodiment of what you claim in on the honorary papers that founded this country, not fixing the problems that lie in your yard, is the very reason will are not able to fix those very things abroad.. So until you recognize this, there won't be any unilateral sermons from the pulpits of black churches in predominantly black communities to satisfy the outer masses.

Leon Carter, the white community couldn't care less how racist your sermons are in your churches, so there's no need for you to try to satisfy us. As someone who grew up about 4 or 5 miles from Obama's church, these racist sermons came as no surprise to me. The only objection white America has is that a guy who wants to be President is part of that church, and that is why white America is putting an end to his little fantasy of being President. So my message to you and members of your churches is to go on and continue to have these racist sermons, it's your right to do whatever you want in the privacy of your own church. But don't dare prop up one of your members as a candidate for President, because that is totally unacceptable and we will stop that candidate from being President.

Why are the people in the media beating a story to death! He answered all the questions in his brilliant speech. The media and journalists are doing harm to the election process and somebody needs to step in and put a stop to it.

I've noticed the people are using these negative and "blogs" the most are the people who don't want progress! It's a shame and you need to wake up! Hillary has a laundry list of problems with Bill and nobody is investigating - she's having her way at the moment. She wants to steal the election - by "hook" and "crook". It's hard to watch her! Poor thing! She only wants the nomination for herself and NOT the american people. Get real!

Something I need to say. BTW, there is more than one John. Anyway, and Jerry will confirm this. We always hear that 'you just don't understand black people'. Well guess what, its apparent you all don't know white people. There is a cultural difference between southerners, eastern europeans, english, irish, italians, etc...Jerry will confirm this. In the eastern european culture (polish, slovaks, hungarians, lithuanians, etc.) the last thing you want to do is 'throw grandma under the bus'. And Obama did just that. He is not fooling us. That mention of 'white grandmother' was nothing more than a CODEWORD. That was his way of blaming whites 100% for Wrights behavior. He's telling the Black Militants that "don't worry about me, we'll screw 'em together. I'm one of you". Sorry Barack, you aren't fooling us.

As I said earlier, the "liar! liar!" meme has made its poisonous way through the (supposedly) MSM to the point that Obama had to state, again, what he said in his speech. So just for the record:

http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/03/obama-attempts.html
"One clarification, because I’ve noticed some of the commentary about the speech – it’s been suggested by a number of conservative commentators, but even some that were favorably disposed towards the speech -- that somehow there was a flip-flop or a contradiction between previous statements about not being aware of Rev. Wright’s statements and my statement in the speech that I was aware of controversial statements he’s made.

"There’s no contradiction there. So I want to be very clear. I was not aware that he had made some of most offensive statements that had been looping on the internet and on the television news.

"I wasn’t aware of the AIDS conspiracy statement, which I think is completely out of line and off the wall.

"I wasn’t aware of his statements, 'God damn America' Those statements were not ones that I knew about until the story broke a week and a half ago.

"The 9/11 statement I became aware of in the New York Times after I announced my candidacy. And as I said in my previous statement, the reason I did not decide to leave the church was because I saw Rev. Wright retiring.

"Now, I was aware of controversial statements. As I said, he has been a fierce critic on occasion of US foreign policy and domestic policy and in fact in my first book 'Dreams of My Father,' and in 'The Audacity of Hope' I quote him making a comment about racism that I think would be considered controversial but I didn’t think was beyond the pale.

"So that’s distinction that I would make. I just wanted to make sure people were clear – I know Joe Klein had a column, for example, that suggested I had admitted something that I didn’t previously, but there’s no contradiction there. I just want to make that as clear as possible."

Mr. Obama

Why would you use the term "typical white person"? I do not feel that it is right for me to say "typical black person." Why has your wife never been proud of the United States before? It seems that this country has afforded her (and you) more opportunities than most countries would on this planet.

What more could Obama have done? What kind of self effacing Mea Culpa is sufficient to atone for these imagined sins to America's sanctimonious pride? Should he have flagellated himself with a whip?
I'm not surprised by the conservative establishments efforts to convict Obama of guilt by association, but it is really disillusioning to see the same divisionary tactics endorsed by otherwise well intentioned democrats, including members of my own family. This manufactured controversy speaks volumes about how our society has subliminated racial prejudice into this perverse delusion of "racial retribution".
The republicans would love nothing more than to transform Obama's image into that of a militant black nationalist, a disengenous and over-hyped snake oil salesman selling America liberal poison in a multicultural easy to swallow package. The democratic party, always self destructive, seems oblivious or incapable of uniting against this threat and is content with tearing itself apart along clearly diliniated race and gender camps, while the republicans walk into office through the backdoor.
The democratic party naively believed that by nominating a woman and a black man it could have a superficial nod to identity politics, without opening pandora's box with all of the simmering resentments that have been held at bay by self conscious political correctness for too long in this country.
The legacy of slavery and discrimination did not end with the triumphant passage of civil rights legislation in the 60's, inequality in opportunity has left many economic and spiritual scars that black people shoulder to this day and this cannot be readily dismissed simply because it presents a disconcerting view of America, at odds with the prevailing optimism of high school history books. Conversely, the black community should not allow itself to become mere apologists for it's own shortcomings. Victimhood is a slave mentality, ill befitting a culture with aspirations for a colorblind society.
Obama's speech was refreshingly candid, and lucid enough in viewpoint to provoke self examination of what offended me most about rev. wrights speeches. Although I don't agree with many of the rev's views, I was offended primarily not with what was said, but with how it was presented.
In the back of my mind, I struggle with occasional prejudicial thoughts,I am confessing this not out of some form of self reverential white guilt, but because I think this is true of most people of all races. It's almost impossible to be live in such a racially polarized society without at the very least subconsciously internalizing some of the negativity. What bothered me about rev. wrights comments is that it reflected some of the same prejudicial thought that I dislike about my self. Equality although often uplifting, also means in no small part, an acknowledgment that we also share the same capacity to surrender to our own baser instincts. In the effort to move forward with racial reconciliation, I sometimes doubt whether it is entirely possible to dispel artificial distinctions of race, when they are embedded so deep in our culture.

I just don't have anything to say these days. I've just been letting everything happen without me recently. It's not important. I feel like a bunch of nothing, but that's how it is. I've basically been doing nothing worth mentioning. My life's been generally dull recently.,

Who knew that Geri Ryan would be king maker. So hard to tie down all the loose ends, isn't it?

I see how an election like this one can brings up issues like slavery and race,however, I feel like dwelling on such opinions only makes it bigger than it should be. Slavery if something most are not proud of, therefore why cant we put that in the past? If you let something, such as the subject of slavery and race get to the point where it is as important as it is now, then people dwell on the fact and the issue stands. We need to focus our energy and time on things like figuring out this social security problem and our ties to the middle east still. One thing that I hate about this election was the fact that after Obama was elected some certain instances were the African American community used it to "gloat" in a way. Like somehow, they were the sole reason for him getting into office. It irritates me when I hear lines on the radio and such that say, "This one is for the hood!" Obviously if Obama got into office red, yellow, black, and whites voted for him. If we as a nation can get past the issues of race, then we can progress as a nation. Then we can see past such "near sighted" issues and actually get to the more important ones.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 19, 2008 1:49 PM.

Sweet: Clinton campaign hits Obama on his Iraq pullout plans. VIDEO was the previous entry in this blog.

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