via Generalistgrant, 3/18/08:
Drawing on his half-black, half-white roots as no other presidential hopeful could, Obama asserted: "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."
PHILADELPHIA - (AP) - Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday tried to stem damage from divisive comments delivered by his pastor, while bluntly addressing anger between blacks and whites in the most racially pointed speech yet of his presidential campaign. Obama confronted America's legacy of racial division head on, tackling black grievance, white resentment and the uproar over his former pastor’s incendiary statements.
Obama expressed understanding of the passions on both sides in what he called "a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races," he said in a speech at the National Constitution Center, not far from where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Obama rarely talks so openly about his race in such a prominent way, but his speech covered divisions from slavery to the O.J. Simpson trial to the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He also recognized his race has been a major issue in the campaign that has taken a "particularly divisive turn" in the last few weeks as video of his longtime pastor spread on the Internet and on television.
via The Caucus, NYTimes Political Blog:
March 18, 2008, 10:14 am
Obama's Speech on Race
By Katharine Q. Seelye
11:50 a.m. From Kate Phillips: One of the more interesting comparisons Mr. Obama made in his speech reflected the highly pitched racial overtones of the last few weeks. In mentioning Geraldine Ferraro’'s comments that the success of his candidacy was only because he was black, and also parrying whether a surrogate of his opponent - Hillary Rodham Clinton - was helping her play the race card, Mr. Obama seemed to be trying to level the playing field between the criticisms he’s received for Mr. Wright’s comments and those that have been flung at him.
"And I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. 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 bias."
He invoked these instances even as he urged Americans to put an end to racially divisive politics.
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.
11:27 a.m. Mr. Obama is delivering a sweeping discourse on race in America. He is getting a very warm and positive response from the audience, with murmurs of agreement at each new passage and an increase in applause as he builds toward the end. Audience members are nodding their heads at each other.
"I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election," he said.
One of the most powerful passages was when he spoke of Reverend Wright: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."
11:20 a.m. Mr. Obama says that, "The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old - is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know - what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation."
Transcript of Obama's speech (via NYTimes)