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That conversation on race is now needed more desperately than ever

Once more, into the breach?
Once more, into the breach?
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In his celebrated March 2008 speech on race (since titled "A More Perfect Union”), candidate Barack Obama said:

[R]ace is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America—to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

Then Obama promptly ignored his own prescription and dropped the subject.

The topic of race has of course emerged since, of its own weight. It came up in July of 2009, when Obama, innocent of the facts, accused white members of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police department of acting “stupidly” in arresting his black friend Henry Louis Gates. It came up again in September of that year when former President Jimmy Carter insisted that a Republican lawmaker’s outburst during an addressby Obama toa joint session of Congress was fueled by racism.

Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was quoted by the New York Times at the time as saying:

[The president] could probably give a very powerful speech on race, just as he did in the course of the campaign. But right now his top domestic priority is health care reform. It’s difficult, challenging and complicated. And if he leads by example, our country will be far better off. (Editor’s note: Knowing all we do now about Obama’s health care reform initiative, one might speculate whether the nation would be better off had he abandoned his agendum to deliver that speech.)

In the ensuing period, other charges of racism have been leveled against opponents of Obama’s policies, most recently by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, targeting members of the Tea Party. Still no speech, or even a response from the White House. And certainly no reaction from the mainstream media.

Until now. Following a fiery speech at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundationan awards dinner last Saturday, during which the president lapsed into a black dialect, the liberal serpent began devouring its own tail. A panel on MSNBC on Sunday debated whether its own left-leaning peer, the Associated Press, was racist for transcribing the president’s “g”-less present participles (-ing words) phonetically.

The discussion refuses to go away. Yesterday, James Taranto expounded on the “kerfuffle,” writing:

It should be noted that the dropping of g's is a feature not only of black speech. When trying to sound folksy, Obama does it in front of largely white audiences too, and so do many white politicians.

That is true, but the embattled AP column also records the president’s use of the construction y’all, which is less commonly employed by politicians “trying to sound folksy.”

This morning, the National Review’s Victor David Hanson weighed in on what he headlines as “Obama’s Racial Crisis.” Hanson notes that Obama’s style of delivery elicited a protest from “the omnipresent” Rep. Maxine Waters who

goes public yet again, to object that the president has no right to rally blacks in this way, when he does not adopt similar tones of admonishment with Jews and gays. (Should Obama try to emulate the way he thinks gays and Jews talk in his next address to them?)

I would quibble that is was the substance, more than the tone, of Obama’s remarks that Waters found objectionable, though I must confess the notion of Obama channeling Jackie Mason to rouse his flagging Jewish base holds some appeal (“What? You won’t vote for me? You’ll instead vote for that goniff Romney or that goyishe kopf Perry? Meshuganah!)

Hanson’s larger point, meanwhile, is indisputable. The racial rift in the country is now dangerously wide. Something needs to be said—pronto—and from the man who, like it or not, brought us here. The catch-22 for Obama is that he has overplayed the “speech card” and then some.

If he gives a much-needed speech, the crux of which first and foremost should be to warn both benches to take a deep breath, will anyone even listen?

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