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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

What makes Obama run?

Gave a really crappy speech in 1988

In 1988, Bill Clinton gave the first big speech of his national political career, which I saw.

Without question, it was a disaster, like most things that year. Some Republican wag asked why Michael Dukakis was not part of the convention. Well, Michael Dukakis lied about his wife's sobriety when asked and the party never really forgave him. Kitty Dukakis was swilling cologne like a Russian tank driver. But Clinton's speech was like a turd in a punchbowl. It was truly awful, too long, too unfocused, too boring.

However, Barack Obama had better luck. If he were better known, the speech he gave would have been an excellent nominating speech for John Kerry. As it stands, it will serve as a template for Democrats to speak about any number of issues for years to come. Not only does the man drip charisma, he seems to have recovered the voice of the Democratic Party. He talked about money and faith in ways that the Democrats haven't in years.

I posted the text of the speech because it is something that should be read, not just talked about.

Speeches are funny things, they can do as much harm as good. I remember Pat Buchanan's KulturKampf speech in 1992, and the generally horrified reaction to it. Molly Ivins said that the speech "sounded better in the original German". As usual, she nailed it. It was an awful, Falangist kind of speech, the kind of thing which sounds better with an armband on at a rally.

Obama blew the room away. It was the kind of speech where you wish you were there to hear it. I wasn't and I wish I was.

I am rarely impressed by the poise and grace of a politician, because that IS their job. But Obama seems like a winner, such a winner that the Illinois GOP seems afraid of him. Is there no State Rep or Senator willing to risk a run? Scary. And if he has the presence of mind on the campaign trail he did tonight, well, that man is going places.

And as one of Atrios's posters noted, the man refuted Bill Cosby in an intelligent, but blunt, way. Oddly, because Obama is a man who had to find his black identity in the most unlikely and among coolest towards blacks places in America, Hawaii. His mother was white, his father Kenyan, his stepfather Indonesian. Yes, America makes anyone who is even partially black, black, but he seems to have found a black American identity some biracial people never grow completely comfortable with. He grew up literally outside of the black community. When he got to Columbia, he had to define himself.

Now, my family has someone who attended all of New York's major schools, except St. John's. Columbia was, by far, the least friendly towards blacks. Whereas Fordham was indifferent, and NYU not especially tense, Columbia, at least in the 80's, was. It wasn't Princeton icy, but it was a place you could feel uncomfortable. So young Mr. Obama had to make a conscious decision about who he would be. Which is no small deal, and it had to influence him at Harvard, which has a solid tradition of black scholarship (it was the one Ivy which readily accepted blacks as far back as the 19th Century).

Why does this matter?

Because his acceptance of being an American black is not small, not a minor detail. It isn't his heritage, it isn't how he grew up. He had to decide to accept it, and take no small abuse for not being like other blacks. He didn't have family in the South or eat their food, or learned their stories. He had to decide to do that. It's not like he could have said he was white, but he certainly didn't have to become a civil rights attorney in the most racially divided of America's large cities, Chicago. His wife is black, as well. Which means he was comfortable in his skin in a way some people, biracial or not, are never. And he was hammered for it when he ran against Bobby Rush, who may be an indifferent legislator, but is as much a hero in Chicago as John Lewis is in Atlanta. Rush survived being a Black Panther when they were about something and the Chicago PD executed them. Yet. Obama survived the slings of blackness against him and is now poised to head to the Senate, with no opposition, so far, an amazing story.

Yes, it was only a speech, but this is a guy who doesn't seem to take the easy way out of things, and that is a good sign in a person and a politician

posted by Steve @ 3:10:00 AM

3:10:00 AM

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