Tactically, I found something really, really big to criticize about it: it's an insanely lousy political speech. It violates one of the first rules of homiletics, the art of giving speeches to crowds: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em." There is no refrain to to his speech, no repeated line. The news media have quite rightly thrashed around helplessly trying to summarize this lecture, trying to figure out what the single most important thing in it is, the one thing you need to take away from it the most. And that was his responsibility, especially as a political candidate suddenly knocked back onto the defensive, someone who's slipped from 47% to 40% advantage in a theoretical match-up against John McCain to the exact opposite disadvantage in the latest poll. It was entirely incumbent upon him, not me, not his campaign staff, and sure as pluperfect hell not any journalist, to decide what was the single most important thing in that entire speech was and make 100% sure that we all knew it. As a political speech, it stinks on ice like week old, like month old fish.
It does have the virtue, though, of being one holy hell of a cross between a high-church sermon and a college professor's lecture. If you can free up the 40 uninterrupted minutes to watch it, you absolutely should. It's exactly everything that Reverend Wright wasn't, and isn't.
Where Reverend Wright was angry, Professor Obama is calm. That's a big damned deal right there, to my deep disgust and loathing. In America, it's okay to feel disapproval, it's more or less okay to be sad, but it is never okay to be angry. If you feel angry in America, you're supposed to take a god-damned pill to numb that anger, to numb your ability to feel much of anything, and only then (if ever) are you allowed to explain what you were angry about. (But probably not.)
Where Reverend Wright assumed that even though his sermon was being videotaped, he could count on the fact that he was speaking to an audience that knew the evidence for what he was saying, Professor Obama instead lays out examples and carefully makes the case. And that's a big deal, because as Professor Obama reminded me, this is a subject on which white America has been lied to, by their newspapers and their schools and especially their radio commentators and yes, even by their white churches ("the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning"); too many of you all, even some of you who had unusually privileged black families, just simply do not know these things.
Where Reverend Wright believed that the things that he was angry about, the things that he is still angry about, are defining characteristics of American society, Professor Obama thinks otherwise. And that's where I still have a big bone to pick with Professor, now Senator, Obama:
"The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change."Yes. It can change for the worse.
-- Barack Obama, "A More Perfect Union," 03/18/08
According to the SAMHSA recurring survey, black men make up approximately 7% of all drug users in America. Because of "the 'Terry stop' problem" they make up approximately 75% of the people in American prisons for drugs. At least Professor Obama had the good grace to admit that one of the things we need to do to address the legitimate causes of black anger is "ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system," but it gets only a passing mention from him. Why? Because he's hopeful. Irrationally hopeful; he has failed to acknowledge that he lives in an America where that particular problem has gotten worse, and where the howls of white Americans to jail more and more black men are rising, not stilling. Professor Obama grudgingly and gently reminds white Americans that past racism, that past racist efforts by past corporations and past banks and past lenders kept the black community from saving up as much money as even the poorest working class family can draw upon. He didn't even spare one word about the irrefutable fact that as recently as this year, criminals in the lending system were systematically and explicitly and overtly robbing black families, by denying them fixed-rate mortgages they would have been entitled to if they were white and overtly steering them into confiscatory sub-prime mortgages. This isn't a theory, this is a god damned fact; tests were run using families identical but for skin tone, buying identical properties in identical neighborhoods, and the results were unambiguous.
Nor is it even possible to dispute that eight years ago, at exactly the point where the same kinds of white racist brokers were telling white American friends and co-workers to stop buying dot-com stocks, those same brokers were giving speeches at black churches and in community centers in black neighborhoods telling them that the reason white people were wealthier than them was that they bought dot-com stocks, that that's what the black community in 1999 needed to be doing, too. Which means that where, in the past, rapacious rich white bigots used to wait 20 to 40 years to find a new scam by which to rob the black community of everything they had saved, knowing (now, just as then) that nobody would go to jail for this because no judge approved by a white electorate and a white legislature would think it actually criminally illegal to steal all that money from the black community, now they didn't even wait ten years to let some of them save some more up before they came around to steal from them again. That's not a problem that's getting better with each generation, that's a problem that has demonstrably, after 30 years of Reaganomic corporate lawlessness under the rubric of "deregulation," gotten worse.
And I will be double damned if I know how a man in the US Senate, a man who before he entered politics worked as a community organizer in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, could not know that. And I don't know which would piss me off more: if he somehow doesn't know these things, or if he was too cowardly to tell the white people who don't know them. Maybe not angry enough to vote against him, but angry nonetheless. Oh, but wait, this is America. I'm not allowed to be angry. Uh, screw that. I'm a crazy person; I can be as angry as I want. And I think that some of you who are taking pills to make you less angry need to get off those damned pills, feel your anger, and let that anger motivate you to get out there and tell people the stuff that they don't know. Maybe if those people knew what you know, that was making you so angry you had to take the damned pills, maybe they wouldn't think you were crazy to be angry, either.