Obama's Speech, Day Two – UPDATED

:::Please scroll down for update::: I like to give people the benefit of a doubt, but I’m pretty tired, now:::

Everyone and their mother has opined on Obama’s speech, yesterday, and I don’t have anything wise to say. I tend to agree with Tom Maguire; Obama probably did what he needed to do to assuage the Democrats, and those Independents who run center-left. As to its content and delivery, I suspect I align with Jon Podhoretz, in that the speech was both well-crafted and crafty. But I’m more interested in something beyond the speech.

Much of the commentary I’ve been reading today points to this moment as the turning point at which many writers parted from him:

I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

I’ve read a few pieces in the blogosphere suggesting that Obama played a “Grandma Cracker” card here; that he had no business comparing Wright’s public utterings with his Grandmother’s private musings. Some writers have said that “even Jesse Jackson” has admitted to being fearful in the same way as Grandma. And they’ve got a point.

His grandmother is an ailing old lady and as much a product of her times as Jeremiah Wright is a product of his times. Obama had to know that by mentioning her he was going to have hoards of press and others descending on her. It was a bad move.

But – on the other hand, and whether his Grandmother’s “cringe”-inducing racial or ethnic stereotypes were of the caliber of Wright’s assertions that (via AIDS) one race was out to destroy the other we can’t know – I can accept see how that Obama finds equivalence there. It must have been jarring to be a black child hearing the white woman who loved and provided for him speak hurtful stereotypes. It cannot have sat easily on the mind.

It made me think back to times in my own childhood and adolescence, when my tall mother – who was stupidly proud of her height, as though she’d done something to earn it – would offer the following explanation to those who wondered how, among my very tall siblings, I could be so lacking in stature: “with her I threw away the baby and kept the afterbirth.”

It was a gag she loved to tell, but one that always left me utterly confused and thinking, so…do you love me or don’t you? How can you love me, and say something like that?

I take no offense at the “Grandma Cracker” bit [see update - admin]
in Obama’s speech (though she certainly might), because I’m grateful; it reveals an important clue as to how Obama could remain with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years.

Having been raised in an environment where I often felt like “the other” and the outsider (when very small I once spent a summer nosing about the house, searching for the birth-certificate which I was sure would prove I was adopted, or had been left at the doorstep) I can picture Obama as a child, doing what children do – wondering about love, about the mother who let him stay with her parents as she went on with her own life, flinching in confusion when the woman who hugged him and sacrificed for him said something about black people that, while wholly unconnected to him, still stung, still made him aware he was different from her. Perhaps on a soft Kansas Hawaiian night he would sit at a window and dream glamorous dreams of his father – the exotic man from Kenya – who would come back and love him and make him feel whole instead of splintered.

Looking at Obama that way, one can understand how he became so attached to Wright, an educated black man with authority and power (you might call Wright the “president” of his church) a man who, one-on-one and beyond the firey rhetoric of his pulpit, had a great deal of personal charm and warmth, and held an Afrocentric world view that connected with the imagined Kenyan father.

I would imagine that for Obama, such a man would offer an irresistible sense of homecoming. He offered something unambiguous, which must have been refreshing after the white grandmother offered confusion, and he was a father-substitute, besides. Obama could love him, and be loved black, and if the white part of him was challenged by the sermons, well, his white mother left him behind; his white grandmother confused him, so maybe they (and he) needed that challenge.

None of that excuses anything Jeremiah Wright has said, but love is blind – it helps me to understand a little about Obama, who did not lose me at “Grandma Cracker.” He did lose me with his speech, though, later on. He lost me here:

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

I listened to that and thought. “And you just did.”

Whatever sincerity Obama expressed – whatever greatness might have been contained in his speech was lost from that incredibly sly and disingenuous paragraph, and it never came back. From there we heard about overcrowded Emergency Rooms (hey, Senator, how about a useful immigration policy that might help that circumstance?) and about the mustard-and-relish-sandwiches that unite all of us in our low-points and under-serviced victimhood.

What a disappointment.
Barack Obama started out appealing to our highest natures, and he revealed a little bit of himself to us, and he even went so far as to suggest that government policies do not always make things better – (“A lack of economic opportunity among black men…contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened”) but then he dragged us right down into the pit of helpless dependency upon government and bureaucracy.

How’s that for a stereotype – he’s a stereotypical big-government Democrat!

I’ve been poor. I know what it is to be hungry, and to go to work carrying a dime and a subway token and a “sandwich” made of one slice of bread and one slice of generic processed cheese, and to know there is nothing in the fridge for supper. Do you know, it never occurred to me to feel like a victim, or to wonder why the government couldn’t fix everything for me. If any politician had ever told my story and tried to wring a heart with it to advance the idea that government alone is the answer, I’d have been appalled – even back when I was a Democrat. I know where I have come from – I know that faith and plain old human kindness got me through and plugged up the drafty spots – not policy.

Obama’s speech was in turns revealing and too-clever-by-half. I don’t know, anymore, whether I hope he will prevail over Hillary or not. At one point I believed his inexperience would make him easier to beat – but this was a canny speech. How it polls in a day or two will give us some insight into whether or not he will be a formidable opponent down the road.

:::UPDATE::: Steve Sailer has researched the Grandma incident, and there is both more and less to the story than Obama implied (H/T Neo) :

…according to Obama’s 1995 book…she once confessed her fear of one aggressive black beggar who didn’t pass by her but instead confronted her, demanded money, and then gave her — an intelligent, level-headed woman who had worked her way up to a mid-level corporate management position — good reason to believe he would have violently mugged her if her bus hadn’t pulled up.

If this was some doofus politician like Bush or Biden who retold the story in a misleading fashion, you might view it as just their usual struggle with using the English language to get across what they really kind of, sort of mean. But Obama is so superb with words that it’s perfectly reasonable to hold him accountable for choosing to slander his own living grandmother for his political advantage.

You’ll want to read his whole post. It seems that Obama, in his speech, clearly misrepresented things a bit to make things easier on himself and Rev. Wright. The fact that Obama keeps bringing this incident up confirms to me that this perhaps WAS a huge moment in his life, but maybe it’s not one we need to see worked out on the public stage? Perhaps all this psychodrama is best left with the therapists?

Unfortunately, with there is also Hillary, psychodrama and soap opera. Can’t the Democrats mount a candidate who is not carrying around existential baggage and a deep-seated need to be “the first” at something? Hell, even Bill Clinton needed to be “the first black president.”

Michael Gerson
is devastating in his analysis

Maxed Out Mama has a terrific post up that looks at the Democrat tendency toward victimhood, even in its candidates. (H/T Viola)

Meanwhile Allahpundit, who has declared the goalposts moved is watching some predictable fallout on day two, and Obi’s Sister has a good round-up of links you might not see “everywhere.”

Also writing:
Micky Kaus
Betsy Newmark
Small Dead Animals
Prof. Bainbridge
American Digest
Sundries Shack
Rightwing Nut House
Paragraph Farmer
Melanie Phillips
Don Surber
Ann Althouse

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Pingback: How to Win Friends and Influence People « Obi’s Sister

  • winston_2008


    This is unrelated…You wrote a wonderful piece about a Peggy Noonan Op-Ed that I can’t find. Can you help? The Noonan Op-Ed was called: A Separate Peace.

    Thank you,


  • TheAnchoress

    Winston – you’re looking for The Art of the Painless Coup – thank you for remembering it.

  • gcotharn

    You notice Sen. Obama did not get specific about what his grandmother said. He only got specific about using her as a symbol.

    The disingeniousness Sen. Obama displayed in politicking against Hillary and McCain inside is his speech … is the same disingeniousness I suspect when he accuses his grandmother of “racial stereotypes.” My image is not of a child Barack. My image is of a teen-aged or college-aged Barack passing judgement. An adult Barack Obama might easily describe some of Bill Cosby’s thoughts as “racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” A disingenious candidate trying to save his candidacy could easily let us all believe what we want to believe about what his Grandmother might have said. Beyond the distastefulness of throwing her under the bus, I have my suspicions about her saying anything much different from what Jesse Jackson or Bill Cosby have said at various times.

    Why am I suspicious? Because Barack is a flim-flam artist.

  • TheAnchoress

    you’ll note I called the speech “crafy” and “too clever by half” and part of it “sly and disingenuous.”

    Don’t mis-read me into admiring the speech, please, just because I have some sympathy for a splintered psyche!

  • http://www.spiritualthingsmatter.com Viola Jaynes

    Thanks for addressing Obama’s speech. Btw: Maxed Out Mama also has an excellent post up about his speech.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    I’ve read a few pieces in the blogosphere suggesting that Obama played a “Grandma Cracker” card here; that he had no business comparing Wright’s public utterings with his Grandmother’s private musings.

    I suppose if one takes the attitude that we should hate the sinner, not merely the sin — like a disappointingly great number of conservative commentators ripping into Obama apparently believe (Hannity, et al.) — it would be unseemly to bring up Grandma’s shortcomings.

    But if we have the attitude of loving the sinner — indeed, loving our enemies, even our political enemies — then to shine sunshine on Grandma’s sins is wholly appropriate, as is Obama’s proper insistence on standing by his pastor, whom he also has affection and love for.

    We all know people, some very near and dear to us, who have said or thought racially divisive things, if not outright racist. Are we to permanently and forever condemn the person, as well as the racist thought?

    Or is it just possible that we remember — THIS WEEK OF ALL WEEKS — that we have been commanded to love even those we disagree with, even those who say hateful things, because their sins have already been paid for — they have already been forgiven by Someone far greater than any of us.

    So just who the hell are we to keep harboring animosity, to keep exploiting racial divisions for political gain, to refuse to forgive, and to refuse to extend even the slightest charity towards our political opponents, including giving them the benefit of the doubt and presuming that they speak and act in good faith? I know it ain’t easy. I have to remind myself frequently of these things. But Someone paid an enormously high price to pay for those sins — shouldn’t we, then, accept that payment?

  • Terrye

    When my grandmothers were born, women could not vote in federal elections in this country. In fact both of these women were born in Indian Territory because Oklahoma was not a state back then.

    My mother’s father had to go to work when he was still a boy to help support his 7 siblings when his father got sent to prison for moonshining. He was a kind man, but he was also a product of his times. He was a bigot by today’s standards. I think the same could be said for most people of that generation and even the one after it. We have to keep all this sermonizing in the context of the times.

    My father’s father was a mule skinner, that means he sold livestock, mostly to the army forts out west. When my grandfather was 12 years old he was the oldest of 4 children. His mother was only 28 years old. There were out on the prairie in their covered wagon looking for water. It was dry that year.They looked for cottonwoods because that meant a creek was nearby. Papa was tired and thirsty from eating the trail dust all day. So he got in the wagon and he laid his head in his mother’s lap. She was ill, she had “consumption” he would tell me many years later. He told me when I was a little girl that she was a good mama because in spite of the fact that she was sick, she gave him the last of her water.

    They found a water hole and papa helped her out of that wagon and to a shade tree. When he came back from watering the stock, she was dead. And that lonely place is where they buried her.

    He had to take his younger siblings back to his uncle’s ranch in Oklahoma. It was 600 miles in a covered wagon, with little money and a 22 rifle. Like I said, he was 12.

    He never asked anybody for anything. Years later he would say that he wished the whole world could know what a good mother he had. After all she gave him the last of her water. Her name was Jemima.

    And I am supposed to feel sorry for some guy who went to a prep school in Hawaii and then on to an Ivy League education and becomes a wealthy man with people fawning at his feet? He can run for the office of the Presidency and I am supposed to “understand” how tough he had it?

    I don’t think so, this country is full of people who had it a lot tougher. And it will take more than a rerun of the Great Society to make me vote for this guy.

  • Terrye

    I tell you what Bender, practice what you preach and extend some of that understanding to John McCain.

  • TheAnchoress

    Terrye, that is one hell of a story – you should write it down and publish it somewhere, even if just on a web-blog; get it all down. We are losing all that history.

  • amr

    If Mr. Obama was a true leader and man of conscience he would have Goggled and found the information on AIDs, privately brought it to the attention of Pastor Wright and requested a renunciation of his sermon. If the Pastor refused, he should have publicly left the church. But a man who desires power and is assured he has a political future if he appears to accept the beliefs of his community, however wrong, would not show such courage. So we find that Mr. Obama is no more than an educated, intelligent, good looking and gifted speaker who happens to be a mundane, stereotypical politician who wishes to be president of our great country.