Obama speaks from the heart

This speech is a superb response to the challenges the Obama campaign has faced this past weekend.

Obama acknowledges the recurrent tendency of Americans to be polarized into racial camps. And he returns to the one of the core messages of his candidacy, which is to repudiate that sort of racial polarization — with reference to the example of his personal, biracial history.

As somebody who was born into a diverse family — as somebody who has little pieces of America all in me [applause] — I will not allow us to lose this moment.

To use a homely illustration, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has handed Obama a lemon, and he’s making lemonade of it. I think this weekend may be a turning point in Obama’s march to the presidency.

Obama doesn’t resort to soaring rhetoric in this address. He speaks from the heart in unadorned, at times disjointed, phrases. But the message resonates nonetheless, and people are lifted out of their seats; or they respond, as to a sermon, “That’s right!” (Though Obama is not speaking in sermon-like cadences.)

Let me speak to an issue raised by one of my long-time commenters. Jack keeps insisting that Obama is “not ready” to be President of the United States of America.

Jack — with respect — you’re wrong. Obama has been tested in the past few weeks, and he has shown his mettle.

Obama doesn’t yield to discouragement when times get tough. He doesn’t give way to anger and start lashing out at his critics. He doesn’t sink into self-pity. He retains his emotional equilibrium; he responds thoughtfully and intelligently; he keeps coming back to first principles.

Obama doesn’t appeal to fear, blood-lust, or the politics of division. Nor does he engage in political triangulation, the way a Clinton would. Instead, he invites Americans to hope, to pursue unity and justice — the road less taken. He keeps appealing to the best, noblest aspects of human nature.

Obama is manifestly unflappable. That’s why, when that 3:00 a.m. phone call inevitably comes, I want him to be the person answering it. Obama is not going to panic, not going to overreact, not going to view the crisis through a political lens. He’s going to reflect on the issue, examine it from all sides, consider what’s best for the country, and arrive at a principled, non-partisan decision. And then he’ll implement that decision, following through on it consistently but not blindly.

That approach will go a long way toward keeping America out of the kind of trouble it has stirred up for itself during the Bush years. That’s why Obama is ready to be President — whatever the naysayers may suppose.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack
    Mar 17, 2008 @ 13:41:56

    Obama has been tested in the past few weeks, and he has shown his mettle.

    Stephen,

    He hasn’t come close to being tested. The campaign trail is not a true test. He speaks well, but in vague terms.

    And as I said in the post about Wright I am disappointed in how he handled this. His continued association there raises many questions. He is unproven and there is no getting around that.

    My big concern is that I really don’t like any of the candidates. It is another situation in which I choose the best of the worst.

    Reply

  2. Random
    Mar 18, 2008 @ 18:22:21

    “Jack — with respect — you’re wrong. Obama has been tested in the past few weeks, and he has shown his mettle.”

    Without wishing to be too snarky, but are you talking about occasions like on the day of the Texas primary when the media finally started to ask him tough questions about Tony Rezko and he fled the room after only eight questions were asked? Compare and contrast if you will the behaviour of John McCain when the NYT broke it’s (non)story about his alleged affair with a lobbyist – McCain spent an entire morning facing the press until they ran out of questions to ask and effectively killed the story with candour.

    Bluntly, if he can’t even face down the media without panicking then he isn’t going to stand a chance when put in a room with somebody like Vladimir Putin. That sort of hard case is not going to be impressed with an ability to make pretty speeches.

    Reply

  3. nebcanuck
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 12:39:29

    I think Obama has been tested, but there are many forms of that testing.

    It is true that he has been confronted about a very difficult issue, and managed to keep his composure and expell any doubts. This whole Wright thing was covered very well in his speech, and he proved that, with time, he can confront even the stickiest of issues.

    However, I also agree that he seems to depend largely on taking the time to prepare a speech ahead of time. He can turn the tides of dissent when given the opportunity to brace himself, but sometimes the media’s not going to let you take that time. Ideally, I think that people running for President should be willing to take time to properly respond to an issue, rather than just shooting off the mouth. However, when a huge calamity arises and he’s forced to take immediate measures, will he really be set to do so?

    I think both styles of decision-making have their pros and cons. We’ve had our fill of Bush, who is very much built around the second, spur-of-the-moment type of choices. However, it’s also easy to point out that, with a little more deliberation over some of his major decisions, the world would be a very different (better?) place. Being slower to decide, on the other hand, will sometimes result in reaching the point of no return.

    Will Obama’s style be better than McCain? I dunno. But I do know that we’ve seen a lot of people who can “lead” on the spur of the moment, and can also make a royal mess of things. Hopefully Obama steps up to the plate and shows that he can do both when the time arises. But the fact that his responses take time does not, in and of itself, make him a less viable candidate than someone who can hardball the media on the spot.

    Reply

  4. Jack
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 13:15:26

    The problem is not the time it took for him to respond. The issue is the substance or lack thereof in his response.

    http://www.bookwormroom.com/2008/03/18/obamas-speech/

    Reply

  5. Stephen
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 19:11:17

    • Jack:
    You don’t think Obama has been tested? I suppose that if you were running to be the first Jewish president, you could tiptoe through the religious/racial minefield effortlessly. Obama obviously lacks your talent.

    • Random:
    I agree that Obama was slow to tackle the Rezko issue. However, he finally (belatedly) sat down with something like 30 journalists from the Chicago newspapers and stayed in place until they had run out of questions.

    Have you read the final conclusions of the Tribune? They don’t understand why Obama waited so long to address the issue head on; but they also conclude that there is no evidence of a quid pro quo for Rezko. That is, there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

    Reply

  6. snaars
    Mar 20, 2008 @ 17:30:48

    If there’s a better test than running a successful presidential campaign, I’m not sure what it is. What is a “true” test will vary depending on who you ask.

    There’s no other job quite like President of the United States. I have a feeling that most presidents get on-the-job training. I think all three of the major candidates have demonstrated the requisite strength of character, flexibility, intelligence, and decision-making ability needed to perform successfully.

    I am looking for a candidate with vision, strength of character, and a certain kind of humility – the kind that recognizes one’s own limitations while tenaciously working toward solutions.

    Obama stands out. He has intelligence, charisma, and an ability to get people to think differently about the nation’s problems. That’s the kind of leadership that’s been sorely lacking, that the country needs right now.

    He’s got my vote. (But I’ll be happy no matter what – any of the three will be a drastic improvement!)

    Reply

  7. Random
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 06:51:36

    “I agree that Obama was slow to tackle the Rezko issue. However, he finally (belatedly) sat down with something like 30 journalists from the Chicago newspapers and stayed in place until they had run out of questions.”

    But this goes back to the point Nebcanuck made earlier – Obama is fine if given time to prepare, but is much less impressive if required to think on his feet and react immediately. I’m sorry, but world affairs won’t hang around waiting whilst president Obama drafts a pretty speech.

    Napoleon once described the key aspect of a leader as “courage at two o’clock in the morning” (not 3AM, Hillary…) – the ability to react correctly when you’ve not got all the information to hand and are probably feeling groggy. All the evidence so far is that this is a quality that Obama lacks (and that McCain possesses in spades, I don’t know about Clinton). Could he learn to acquire it? Perhaps. But POTUS is not a job to be doing while we find out.

    Reply

  8. Stephen
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 09:42:33

    That’s a reasonable concern to raise. But the Rezko issue is not a world crisis. I don’t know that it tells us anything about how Obama will react to, for example, an unexpected development in the Middle East.

    Part of what enables people to make a quick, correct response, is that they have a set of principles that will guide them in a crisis. Obama thinks in terms of principles in a way that McCain does not appear to. (The accounts that I have read suggest that McCain’s record is all over the map, depending on what stage of his political career you look at.)

    I think Obama would make a decision based on overarching principles, which would result in a coherent American policy. Conversely, I think McCain would respond in an ad hoc manner — perhaps even in a fit of pique — that could land America in troubled waters.

    And I would add this. We’ve been conditioned to expect a response to any issue on the spot. That’s what the media wants, and it may even be what the people want. The people don’t like to cope with uncertainty, even for a couple of days.

    But is it really a mistake to mull things over for two or three days or — God forbid! — a week, instead of taking precipitous action? Should the news cycle really dictate how rapidly the President determines U.S. policy?

    Sometimes it’s better to let cooler heads prevail. And if your point is that Obama has a cooler head than McCain, I’m in complete agreement.
    😉

    Reply

  9. Stephen
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 10:13:15

    Snaars! You’re back! I hope all is well with you and yours!

    I’m not sure that McCain will be a dramatic improvement over Bush. On Iraq, he promises a continuation of the status quo. On economics — mostly I see disinterest, which doesn’t bode well for a McCain presidency.

    Reply

  10. snaars
    Mar 23, 2008 @ 19:38:57

    Always good to drop in and see your blog is active as ever, Stephen.

    I won’t be overly thrilled if McCain is elected, but I think he would make a fine president. While he didn’t oppose the Iraq war in the beginning (neither did Clinton), he has always been outspoken against the administration’s conduct of the war (whereas Clinton has not always been outspoken). He strikes me as being a man of character, consistency, good morals, and judgment. He does not always “tow the party line.”

    This election, for me, is about character. I’m less concerned about actual policies, or how the president goes about the job. I want someone who is thoughtful and has a balanced approach. I want a candidate who will listen and not over-simplify issues.

    Reply

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