[Guest post by DRJ]
I read the transcript of Barack Obama’s speech at Drudge, and I think it’s a masterful speech. It identifies the concerns of diverse elements of the Democratic Party and persuasively argues that only Obama can unite them. However, I also see some drawbacks:
At one point, Obama said of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.” That’s a powerful statement that will make an excellent soundbite but, if he were debating online, Obama’s argument would be immediately exposed. No one asked Obama to disown the black community, just one incendiary slice of it. The fact that Obama believes he can’t disown Wright without disowning the black community says a lot about Obama and the black community.
Obama’s refusal to distance himself from both the message and the messenger, instead of just the message, may come across as tolerant but what it means in practice is that Obama will never be able to distance himself from Wright’s incendiary rhetoric. Obama has given his adversaries a visual and audio soundbite that will affirmatively connect him to Wright’s inflammatory statements throughout the campaign. In my opinion, that statement may be a short-term winner in the public opinion battle but it will be a loser in the long-term war.
Many will be impressed by Obama’s message of uniting, not dividing, and see Obama as both a literal and figurative example of that message. Obama uses that message to emphasize that he is a messenger of hope and positive change. Nevertheless, even though Obama emphasizes that his goal is to talk about what Americans can do, his examples and his core message are primarily about what Americans can’t do. In this speech, Obama’s focus was largely on how America and Americans have failed: Failed to bridge racial divides, failed to educate our children, and failed to provide meaningful opportunities to poor and disadvantaged Americans.
Obama may have channeled Abraham Lincoln in the introduction to his speech but his text was straight out of John Edwards’ “Two Americas.” That may be a winning combination for Obama but it wasn’t for Edwards.
[EDIT NOTE: Paragraph 3 edited for clarity to add the phrase “instead of just the message”. Thanks to Aplomb for noting it in comment #4.]
UPDATE: James Taranto adds related thoughts.