Barack Obama is nothing if not smooth. He seamlessly turned a would-be apology over his pastor's racism into an indictment against society's racism.
It wasn't, "Jeremiah Wright was wrong, and I was wrong for going to his church for 20 years despite his apparently unforgiving spirit, his racist and anti-American utterances, and his vulgarity, including taking the Lord's name in vain from his very pulpit -- the one venue above all on God's sacred planet that such irreverence is inalterably forbidden. No matter what racial injustices have been perpetrated over the years by mankind toward mankind, they are never an excuse for disrespecting God, and especially in His house."
Instead, Obama said, essentially, "I reject many of Rev. Wright's remarks as divisive and perhaps even unfairly critical of America, but you have to admit, he has a point."
You can talk all you want to about Obama's "audacity of hope" theme, but the only audacity I heard in his speech was his lecturing Americans on their racism instead of explaining his longtime intimate relationship with Wright.
Obama's forte is not, as many have suggested, waxing eloquent while saying nothing. His real gift is saying one thing while appearing to say the opposite, so mellifluously and disarmingly that audiences shake their heads in affirmation of the very proposition they oppose. Without changing their minds, they believe they have agreed with him. Amazing -- and scary.
In his speech, he needed to condemn and distance himself from his pastor. And he did -- sort of. But before he was finished, he had virtually excused his pastor's statements and given us a history lesson in precisely why resentments giving rise to such statements came about -- and were justified. In other words, "Sure, Pastor Wright sometimes crossed the line, but don't let his tone obscure the underlying message: Racism is still pervasive in this country, which hasn't come close to making amends for its shameful past."
Reasonable people can debate the extent of the continued existence and effects of racism in both directions today, but in the meantime, we should recognize that Obama ducked the questions his speech was purportedly crafted to answer.
Assuming that not everyone listening to the speech was so mesmerized by Obama's intoxicating spell of lofty rhetoric that they forgot its purpose, Obama is not yet out of the woods on this issue. And that's his own fault.
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