There are moments — increasingly rare in risk-abhorrent modern campaigns — when politicians are called upon to bare their fundamental beliefs. In the best of these moments, the speaker does not just salve the current political wound, but also illuminates larger, troubling issues that the nation is wrestling with.
Inaugural addresses by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt come to mind, as does John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religion, with its enduring vision of the separation between church and state. Senator Barack Obama, who has not faced such tests of character this year, faced one on Tuesday. It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better.
Mr. Obama had to address race and religion, the two most toxic subjects in politics. He was as powerful and frank as Mitt Romney was weak and calculating earlier this year in his attempt to persuade the religious right that his Mormonism is Christian enough for them.
In many ways, Barack Obama’s speech on race was momentous and edifying.
You could tell it was personal, that he had worked hard on it, all weekend and into the wee hours Tuesday. Overriding aides who objected to putting race center stage, he addressed a painful, difficult subject straightforwardly with a subtlety and decency rare in American politics.
Certainly, Senator Obama was exercising sophisticated damage-control on his problem with Jeremiad Wright. But he did not pander as Mitt Romney did with his very challenging speech about Mormonism, or market-test his own convictions, as most politicians do.
interesting Dowd and the editors at The New York Times took the
opportunity to slam Mitt Romney's speech. Romney's speech was about
his religion. Obama's was, supposedly, about his relationship with his
racist mentor and preacher. From The Times editorial (my emphasis):
Mr. Obama’s eloquent speech should end the debate over his ties to Mr. Wright since there is nothing to suggest that he would carry religion into government. But he did not stop there. He put Mr. Wright, his beliefs and the reaction to them into the larger context of race relations with an honesty seldom heard in public life.
From where I sit, Obama's religion is not at issue. For must of us, Rev. Wright's sermons, the ones we've heard, bear little resemblance to religion. The issue is the hate speech Obama's been listening to for two decades. Maybe Obama adequately addressed that, maybe he didn't. But taking cheap shots at Mitt Romney's speech is...cheap.