The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox with Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on race in America. Obama distanced himself from the more controversial remarks made by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and used the opportunity to urge Americans to “move beyond our old racial wounds” to deal with problems that affect everyone.
Throughout most of his candidacy, Obama has largely stayed away from talking about race, but yesterday he decided to tackle the issue after receiving lots of negative publicity in recent days due to controversial sermons given by his longtime spiritual mentor. In a speech delivered at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Obama said, “Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive,” but he went further and explained that Wright’s statements reflect the anger and frustration many black Americans feel due to the country’s racist past. “To condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.” Obama also said he understood the anger of some whites over affirmative-action policies. “This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years,” he said.
Many describe yesterday’s speech as the most important in Obama’s career, and a historian tells USAT that it was the most extensive discussion about race ever given by a presidential candidate. The NYT notes historians “described the speech’s candidness on race as almost without precedent,” and many agree that it will go down in history, regardless of who wins the nomination. The official word from the Obama campaign is that the senator insisted on giving the speech, and he wrote it himself over the past few days. Many quickly praised the speech, but all the papers note it’s still not clear how it will play politically. The WSJ talks to some Republicans who say Obama’s alliance with Wright can still be used against him because he only spoke up against the statements once they became a political liability. Even some Obama supporters aren’t sure this was the best strategy to deal with the controversy. “The more he has to talk about race, the blacker he becomes in the public imagination,” a professor tells the paper.
Most of the papers’ editorial boards swoon over Obama’s address and heap praise on the senator for turning a damage-control speech into what the WP calls “a teachable moment.” The NYT says that “it is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better.” Regardless of whether it ends the controversy over Wright’s statements, the LAT says that the speech “redefines our national conversation about race and politics.”
USAT agrees, noting that “if it does nothing more than promote needed conversations … it will have served a valuable function.” For its part, the WSJ says the speech “was an instructive moment, though not always in the way the Senator intended.” By blaming “standard-issue populist straw men of Wall Street and the GOP” for much of what is wrong in the country, he “also revealed the extent to which his ideas are neither new nor transcendent.”
In the NYT‘s op-ed page, Gov. Philip Bredesen of Tennessee puts forward an interesting proposal to help the Democrats avoid “a long summer of brutal and unnecessary warfare.” If there’s no clear Democratic nominee by the end of the primary season, he suggests that the party should “schedule a superdelegate primary,” where they would all get together in a public caucus so a decision can be made before the convention. “In addition to the practical political benefits, such a plan is also a chance to show America that we are a modern political party focused on results.”