It had been a devastating week for Barack Obama.
The rationale for his entire campaign was hope and reconciliation. Yet, for days, his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, was shown on television delivering rabid and racially insensitive sermons denouncing America. Rightfully sensing his candidacy may be history if he did not respond, Obama answered with a spine-tingling, tear-evoking historical speech that was so remarkable, it drew comparisons to addresses made by Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
It was visionary, daring, and bold – evoking a flood of praise and the showering of lofty "M-words."
Magnificent – moving – majestic – magical – mesmerizing – mellifluous – monumental.
Above all, it was a sincere and honest discussion that avoided all the "P-words" that have defined political discourse on race since the Civil War.
Patronizing – pandering – politically correct – polarizing
Indeed, it was so inspiring that Obama supplanted Oprah as the "Big O" on his campaign. The speech was as timeless as it was timely and will be talked about for generations. In essence, Obama brilliantly gave people – of all races – permission to justify their grievances and grudges – while taking them by the hand and showing them an enlightened way forward.
He also deftly handled the ranting reverend problem with a strategy of distancing without disowning. In doing so, Obama was credited for showing the two were not ideological Siamese twins, while scoring points for personal loyalty. It was a feat so astonishing that the only other politician who could have pulled it off – maybe – was Bill Clinton in his prime.
The address was also politically astute.
For example, Obama reassured Jewish voters concerned with Rev. Wright's comments by saying that, Israel was a "stalwart" ally and the problems in the Middle East emanated from, "the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."
When he said that Rev. Wright, "helped introduce me to my Christian faith," Obama was trenchantly using the example as an opportunity to tell voters – yet, again – that he was not a Muslim, as right wing opponents have repeatedly suggested.
Obama also boosted his candidacy by hitting patriotic themes – such as when he said, "In no other country on earth is my story even possible." He referred to the "decency and generosity of the American people," and said his convictions were rooted in "faith in God and my faith in the American people."
Perhaps most clever, was the way Obama forthrightly explained his connection and affection for Rev. Wright by comparing him to an old uncle and using the phrase, "For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation." Clearly, Wright was a substitute for John McCain and the message was clear: McCain is stuck in the past and Obama represents the voice of a new generation that wants to move beyond yesterday's sins."
All politicians – even Obama – need bogeymen, real or imagined. Brilliantly, Obama joined people of all races together in the fight against the "real culprits of the middle class squeeze – corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by special interests economic policies that favor the few over the many."
This speech was particularly tantalizing for gay and lesbian people because if a president wants to pass pro-gay legislation, he or she will have to effectively articulate why it is a moral imperative. This speech allowed us to envision President Obama assuaging Christian conservatives by telling them that their work to protect families is honest and sincere. However, their attempts to use discrimination as a tool to strengthen traditional families are harmful and misguided. By forthrightly addressing an explosive issue, such as race, it was a guide to how Obama might build support for GLBT issues.
While Obama did not solve the racial divide in America or the problem of his long association with Rev. Wright in one speech, he did a better job than anyone else could have under the circumstances. One can't help but marvel at the skills of this political Houdini, who turned a crisis into a crowning achievement. It is too soon to plaster his face on Mt. Rushmore, but this performance guarantees more people will rush to Obama's revived campaign.