I have been watching the media go through convolutions for several days now over the great, the wonderful, stupendous speech on racism in America given by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The senator from Illinois was trying to dispel the notion left by his pastor Jeremiah Wright, that everyone who attends the same church as the senator and his pastor is a racist bigot.
He didn't succeed. He just dug himself into a deeper hole, that keeps getting even deeper every time he tries to explain his last explanation.
Did I mention that I teach university courses on public speaking? Did I mention that I have been a public speaker since the late 1970s. OK, just in case you missed it, I have been a public speaker since the late 1970s and I teach public speaking university courses.
In any given semester, a third to half of my students are of African-American descent. On any final speech day, I would put 90 percent of those students up against Obama and they would win hands down.
I am not particularly a fan of Sen. Obama's speaking style. I find it somewhat stilted and halting, apparently used as a device for effect, but it doesn't work for me.
But that is not why I don't think he did very well with his speech. I think he did a mediocre job because he delivered what is termed in formal courses a "Persuasive Speech," yet he did not succeed in persuading very many people at all, if any, of his position.
He pandered. He tried to keep one foot planted in a community where every ill on earth is conceived of and delivered by "rich, white men," and the other foot in modern America - referred to as Post-Racial - where a black guy or a white woman can aspire to the presidency with equal chances to win as anyone else.
Barack said he disagreed on the pastor's anti-white rhetoric, changed his story on whether he had actually sat in a pew during services when the pastor was spewing his vitriol, and yet said he wouldn't abandon his mentor. That doesn't come across as well-deserved loyalty, that comes across as a guy who doesn't want to alienate his base.
At the same time he disparaged his white grandmother, and blamed white America for making race an issue in his campaign.
Frankly, I don't think "white" America is buying it. I also don't think brown, red, yellow or any other color America is buying it, and I know from watching the news all week that plenty of black Americans aren't buying it either. This despite the cacophony of mewling left-wing news commentators and anchors who are trying to drown out the sucking sound of a campaign going down the drain by shouting their praises as loudly as possible.
I have heard people compare Obama's speech to the best moments of President Lincoln, President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and other giants of the spoken word. That kind of comparison is actually more sad than pathetic, because it shows that the people who are making it either are insufferably uninformed and undereducated, or they are such simpering pawns that they have no professional ethics or veracity.
I watched the speech as it was delivered, much as I watch the delivery of my students' speeches - somewhere in the vicinity of 400 speeches each semester - and when he was finished I would have given him a C. That's it. If he had been punctual, didn't cut class, did all his assignments on time and was an enthusiastic participant, he might have gotten a C Plus.
If Barack Obama had really wanted to succeed with his speech, he would have embraced the obvious and said so. He could have and should have said that there is a segment of America's black community, that while not suffering the horrors of slavery itself, and regardless of benefiting from civil rights legislation passed two generations ago, still has a simmering resentment of whites.
He would have noted that it doesn't help that America's Hispanic community is now outpacing the black community numerically and is getting more attention. He would have said "Yes, I grew up in this community, I have heard and understood its positions, and at times I have taken those same positions myself."
I call that embracing the obvious, because it is obvious to everyone except the senator, his immediate family, and the fawning media that he grew up in that community and has at times embraced its positions.
What was it, only two weeks earlier that his wife, who was educated in Harvard and makes a substantial six-figure salary here in America, made the comment that only since her husband became a presidential candidate has she been proud of her country?
That floored a lot of white people because most white Americans don't get to go to Harvard and don't make six-figure salaries, nor live in million-dollar mansions.
So most people already knew where he was coming from on that issue. But what most white Americans were waiting to hear, was that he is a forward-looking candidate, who is well aware that slavery ended in America nearly 150 years ago, and that civil rights legislation has enabled black Americans to achieve economic powerhouse status.
He could have said that despite lingering racism across the board, he is well aware that more than 400,000 white Americans died so Americans of all other races could live here on an equal footing, and have equal opportunities to succeed or fail. He could have noted that the negative aspects of our country were not solely American problems, but in fact were problems of the entire human race.
He could have noted that while white shippers and plantation owners were on one end of the slavery spectrum, blacks who kidnapped and transported slaves to the coast of Africa for money were on the other end. He could have noted that for more than a century, white American presidents and Congresses have worked successfully to end segregation, and pass legislation that gives all Americans the same status and opportunities.
He then could have said that when he becomes president, he will be mindful of our shared history, but look to the future. He could have said that he will prove his value, and by extension the value of all Americans, regardless of race, by showing America and the world that as America's first black president he will work to reach out to all Americans.
He could have said he will work to show that American is indeed a land of equal opportunity and that while human failures still exist, he will set the example of rising above them. He could have said he will work to make all Americans proud of our country, our status in the world, and proud of our history of overcoming human frailties and prejudices.
He could have. But he didn't. Instead, he came across as another angry black man who is out to redress 300 years of oppression. How he would improve on the Civil War and civil rights legislation is somewhat of a mystery. It also is difficult to see what oppression he will end considering that the Civil War was fought nearly 150 years ago.
Sen. Obama left the audience gasping and grasping. He tried to be all things to all people and ended up being nothing to anyone. Except to the fawning, mewling media which once again is trying to cover up an insufficient performance by braying to what it assumes is an uneducated audience of lemmings that what they witnessed was a historic moment.
About the best thing I can see coming out of this is that in the near future another black man or woman will declare for the presidency and understand that unity, not division, is what will get them elected. I hope when that moment comes, the next African-American candidate is a Republican.
Saturday, March 22, 2008