Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Obama Speech

I wasn’t able to listen live to Barack Obama’s speech today, but here it is — all 37 minutes 39 seconds — via Crooks and Liars.

Read the transcript here.

Here is, to me, the heart of the matter.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

My impression was that he addressed the issue squarely, eloquently, and with the depth and understanding that is required of a person who seriously wishes to lead this nation.

The reactions have been fairly predictable from the parties; the Democrats — even supporters of Hillary Clinton — are impressed, as are even some conservatives, albeit begrudgingly. The bellicose responses have been from the expected sources as well, but underneath it you can hear the flop-sweat as they come to the inescapable conclusion that no one in their party could deliver such a speech with such sincerity and eloquence, and the inevitable conclusion that they are up against a formidable presence. (Short version: “If he gets the nomination, we are so screwed.”)

Time will tell, but I think we witnessed today the beginning of a moment in history.