Read The Speech

Bill Scher

Pat Buchanan’s latest rantings, put in their place by Isaiah, are merely the starkest evidence of a conservative effort to undermine the objective of Sen. Barack Obama’s historic “A More Perfect Union” address, the objective of unity.

Not all conservatives are trying to maintain racial division in the wake of the speech — Charles Murray, Peggy Noonan and Michael Smerconish have notably praised the address.

But many other conservatives have not just criticized the speech, but willfully ignored key sections of the speech — apparently in hopes of having white Americans perceive the speech as affixing blame on them.

Of course, the speech does nothing of the sort.

Buchanan whines: “Is white America really responsible for the fact that the crime and incarceration rates for African-Americans are seven times those of white America?”

Buchanan doesn’t mention that Obama explicitly rejects the chastising of whites for their concerns about crime:

So when [working- and middle-class white Americans are] told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time … to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Several conservative commentators and bloggers have accused Obama for “throwing his grandmother under the bus.” Fox News even chopped up that part of the speech, leaving out his expressions of love for his grandmother, to make it appear, according to Time’s Joe Klein, that he was accusing his grandmother of being a racist. That’s been repeated by conservatives as well.

But the full speech makes it clear. Obama was explaining that having deeply ingrained racial stereotypes bred into you does not make someone an incorrigible racist. That you don’t “disown” humans for human flaws that we all have. That we all can change, and America has changed.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer pretends Obama did not answer the question, “why didn’t he leave that church?” Or, “If Wright is a man of the past, why would you expose your children to his vitriolic divisiveness?” But the speech addressed that specific question:

Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Which, again, is the part of the point. There’s good and bad that has resulted from the black community experience throughout American history, as well as the white community experience. To knee-jerk “disown” and sow further division every time the bad surfaces will not move us toward a more perfect union.

The genius of Obama’s speech was the rejection of accusation and and affixing blame, the understanding found in his personal experience in both white and black communities, and emphasis on our common bonds and needs.

But sowing division is what these conservatives are interested in. They don’t want you to read the speech. They want you to have a distorted view of the speech. There’s no other way to explain the widespread dishonest reaction.

Karl Rove has warned them that the Republican party cannot survive as an all-white party, trying to get conservatives to bend on immigration and to quit bigoted attacks on Obama.

Yet old habits die hard.

NOTE: You may be interested in my bloggingheads.tv discussion with Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation, which covers some of the above ground.

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