Senator Obama and the Race Issue

There’s never a good time for race to become the dominate news story surrounding Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency. But it would have been far better for the Democratic front runner if the topic had come to a boil several weeks ago. That’s because there’s a long lull between now and the Pennsylvania primary on April 22nd, and there’s a lot of political reporters with little to fill up the hours and pages between now and then. Thanks to his personal pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, however, race is driving the news cycle and Senator Obama had no choice but to confront it head on.

As might be expected, Senator Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, was eloquent and moving. It was, perhaps, the most direct discussion of race by a major presidential candidate in decades. He addressed virtually every racial issue to be raised in this campaign. From Geraldine Ferraro’s remarks that seemed to imply the Obama candidacy is “somehow an exercise in affirmative action.” And he repudiated several comments by Reverend Wright.

There will be many comparisons to Senator Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race to then Senator John Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 on religion. And it will stand up well to the comparison.

What’s unfortunate about all this is that the last thing Senator Obama needs is to be perceived as the Black candidate for president. He has spent too much time developing the deserved image of the candidate for change and hope. Yet the danger is that the narrative of his campaign is rapidly becoming that of his race and not his ideas. This will distract from his gaining ground on Senator Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. He needs those voters focused on his ideals and his ideas, not the color of his skin. In those states where he’s been successful in that goal he’s done well. If the focus is on his race, however, he is in danger of having the election serve as a referendum on something other than his fitness for office.

Hopefully, people will listen to the speech. Hopefully, they’ll learn from it. And hopefully, political reporters and pundits will find more to talk about — perhaps even dealing with legitimate issues. Race will continue to be a part of this campaign for so long as an African American is a part of the election. But it would be nice if it wasn’t the primary topic of conversation and was, instead, just something noted, appreciated and then moved beyond.

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6 Responses to “Senator Obama and the Race Issue”

  1. jonolan Says:

    I disagree – Obama just grounded the Race issue for the duration of this campaign. Any further attempts to use Race by Clinton are doomed – and she’s going to catch backlash for what she’s already used. Giving the populous a chance to chew on it will be a good thing – it’s a heavy meal.

    Having Ferraro goad the MSM into making Race an issue backfired on Hillary. She gave one of the finest orators of our time a chance to speak; hell, she forced him to, hoping he’d fail. Obama took the issue and pounded it out with much sympathy but no pity or apology for any involved in it.

    A man could get elected with a single speech like that…

  2. Winslie Gomez Says:

    It will be interesting to see the reaction to this speech over the coming weeks.

    He has at least confronted that which was submerged yet noticeable in society.

    I am from UK but feel the inspiration in Obama.

    If you have no objection here is my link.
    http://justlearningman.wordpress.com

  3. kip Says:

    I have to agree with Jonolan on this one.

  4. Petey Says:

    Maybe I have become cynical but I felt that he was trying to manipulate me too hard, especially with the touching story about Ashley as well as recalling The Constitution which Lincoln did in his most famous speech. I wish he would have addressed those “nagging” (hated that word) questions without without giving a speech. I would have preferred a question and answer session than a prepared, brilliantly excuted speech.

  5. Mr. Roach Says:

    This guy just contextualizes everything and makes false equivalence between nutty conspiracy theories and America-hating racism versus ordinary and forgivable fears of black criminals and unfair, racist affirmative action programs. His message is simple: vote for me and you’re doing your duty to end racism. Pretty ego-centric, to say the least.

  6. MD Sam Smith Says:

    While the historical significance of Senator Obama’s oration on the subject of race may long be debated, your comparison to John F Kennedy’s speech in 1960 before the Greater Houston Minesterial Association is correctly the point we should most be focused on. That the issues of war, of hunger, of ingorance and despair are still the critical issues that face us in this election 48 years hence is a national disgrace. What kind of American will the next President of the United States lead us to? That is the ultimate question. That is truly where our focus should be.


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