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On Walt and Wright

An academic who has devoted his recent “research” to exposing the “Israel lobby” applauds Barack Obama’s March 18 speech on race and Jeremiah Wright for being the most memorable moment of this presidential election. Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

It came at a crucial moment in the campaign, when Obama’s past association with Reverend Wright seemed like it might derail his campaign completely. There are a thousand ways he might have mishandled it, which would have ended his chances. Instead, he gave a speech that confronted America’s most sensitive issue with sophistication, grace, balance and forgiveness. He did what every successful candidate for President must do: he held out a vision of America to which we all can aspire, and made it seem within reach. 

Never mind that Walt does not condemn Reverend Wright or his politics or his egregious rhetoric, and never mind that Walt does not question Obama’s relationship with his self-proclaimed “spiritual mentor”; but is the Harvard professor able to recall a single line from Obama’s much acclaimed speech on race?

Obama’s vision of America, one could infer from the speech, is that it remains a racist nation (as exemplified by his grandmother and his preacher, according to Obama); or, at least, that America remains a nation rife with racial prejudice. It’s not a pretty picture.  But this is the vision of America “to which we all can aspire,” according to Walt.

Walt’s analysis inadvertently shines light on another aspect of Obama’s race speech. Obama was successfully able to argue that any condemnation of Wright would be akin to inciting racial prejudices among the electorate; he was warning that talk of Wright would be considered race baiting. As Jen notes, Jeremiah Wright has been only a tangential issue in this presidential race because John McCain has refused to make it an issue. In that sense, Obama’s speech was the most effective political act of 2008.


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