Obama’s speech: one for the ages

Sen. Barack Obama’s speech showed what Americans need in a president.

Since he burst onto the scene of the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Sen. Barack Obama has been praised for his gift for oratory. Sometimes his speeches have, however well crafted or delivered, safely hidden more in lofty abstractions than the hard, identifiable truths that he promises to tell the American people when they need to hear them. His speech on race in America, given last week near the very building where our nation’s Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia, was the kind we need to hear.

Faced with toxic comments from his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, dominating the cable news loop and threatening to submerge his campaign, Obama did not indulge in the political damage control to save his own hide that we would expect of any presidential candidate. True, he did explain his relationship with Wright, and made it clear that he disagrees in the strongest terms with the reverend’s inflammatory rhetoric. But he did not stop there, as others would have, but gave Americans the first real proof that he can do what his candidacy is based upon – bring the country, despite its sometimes bitter divisions, together.

In a speech of piercing honesty, he addressed the uncomfortable subject of America’s greatest division – race. Black anger, he said, is real, and it is the product of historical injustices that continue to make their terrible reverberations felt through to present day. So too, is white resentment, and the fact that many white Americans don’t feel privileged by the color of their skin. Americans may not be segregated by law anymore but in many places, including Minneapolis, it is separated by fact, and while the reasons for this are not solely the result of racial divisions, the origins are.

Some will probably shirk from this mirror that he has raised for us to look into, perhaps painfully. But in addressing this fact, Obama has shown himself to be a person of tremendous courage, and if he never spends a day in the Oval Office, he will have already done a great service to a nation that needs desperately to hear the candid, unvarnished truth from its leaders.