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Words Matter

In declining to jump on the bandwagon of pundits praising Barack Obama’s oratorical skills last week, Christopher Hitchens points out the intentionally fuzzy vocabulary which Obama uses to mask his own culpability in countenancing Reverend Wright’s hate speech. Hitchens explains:

But is it “inflammatory” to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it “controversial.” It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.

I assume that Obama believes Wright’s words are “wicked and stupid and false.” And I assume that he has the linguistic skills to express this belief. The only thing he lacks is the moral courage to say so as clearly at Hitchens does. To do so would be to recognize the fundamental contradiction between Obama’s admonishing all of us to follow his vision of racial unity and his bringing his own children to hear Wright’s sermons. It would make him look less like an agent of change than a hapless participant in the polarized racial politics of the past.

Indeed, the stated purpose of the speech–to embark on a racial dialogue, albeit one which voters never asked for and which he for over a year felt no need to start–was a clever exercise in misdirection. But voters and nervous Democratic leaders didn’t want to hear about our failures to achieve racial harmony. They wanted to hear about his behavior and shortcomings. He obviously preferred to talk much more about the former than the latter.

Obama is glib and attractive and has been given every accommodation by the media. But this may be one time he can’t fudge or disguise his own intentions and behavior. In the end, the voters will decide whether all his words were designed to uplift, or merely to obfuscate.


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