Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A More Perfect Union


SuiginChou said...

He's a good speaker, and it was a good (4/5) speech, but it didn't bring anything NEW to the table. Everyone in America -- intellectual and redneck alike -- knows about the racial problems he's experiencing for himself; and every intellectual, at least, is also able to think outside of himself, put himself into the other guy's shoes, and realize what problems he's going through, too; yet Obama's speech was all about this ... this perceived IGNORANCE amongst Americans of one another's plight and how we will have to band together and unite.

Maybe I just grew up in an atypical family and as an atypical American, but my answer is "NO SHIT" and I feel a little insulted that I just spent 40 minutes of my night listening to stuff I mostly already knew (the latter half of the speech) or didn't really need to know about (the first half, where he focuses on his personal history with the reverend who got him into trouble with the pundits).

Jay said...

Immediately after watching, I thought "Man, I wish I taught an 8th grade class, because this is the sort of speech I would want the kids to read." And then I thought it might be a great exercise to read this speech along with The Gettysburg Address, I Have a Dream and maybe even Mitt Romney's crap-fest just for a little perspective.

I was worried by the first 'news' show I watched because the pundits were spinning it as "OMG he should have just left the church WTF" and I was very dismayed. Didn't anyone else pick up on the grandeur, honesty, eloquence, and literary flair?

Then I watched Hardball and THANKFULLY everyone was hailing the speech as the greatest of the last 40-50 years. Matthews even suggested it might have been worthy of Abraham Lincoln (I'll need some historical distance before I can go that far).

Ryan, I hate to say it, but I think you give the empathy of Americans too much credit, although I hope I am wrong. I thought it was a terrific moment that was uncharacteristically, as far as politics go, honest.

SuiginChou said...

Whether I give the empathy of Americans credit is irrelevant, as Obama's speech isn't about engendering empathy but rather about raising awareness. And the fact is, I think most Americans recognize the issues he brought up:

1- that the plight of African-Americans, while real, is not entirely the fault of non-African Americans. That there are indeed legitimate complaints to be levied against the African-American community such as promotion of gang culture in popular black media, "always looking for the clouds to every silver lining" (to reverse the saying) when it comes to good deeds done to them by whites or other ethnic groups, etc.

2- that the complaints whites make about "reverse discrimation," while true, are often petty as (1) the degree to which reverse discrimination hinders whites pales in comparison with the degree to which white-engendered racism hurts other ethnic groups, and (2) cries of "reverse discrimination" usually hail from whites who lost in a fair competition and are looking for excuses that justify their failure to succeed. (Not always! But usually!)

Basically Obama pointed out that whites and blacks alike will always point the finger everywhere but at themselves. And indeed, that's not even a racial issue but a human issue. Mankind as we know it will always point the finger happily at others, refusing to admit that perhaps he is wrong, that he is committing evil, etc. Seinfeld's comedic "Could my mother have been wrong? Am I really a bad man?" line in the Pakistani restaurant episode is painfully relevant to this sort of discussion -- people all too rarely accept that they themselves are the source of their own problems and of the problems voiced by others.

I stand by what I said last night, having completely forgotten about this speech until checking your weblog this morning. 4 out of 5 stars. Good but forgettable. Didn't bring anything new to the table. And a complete waste of 40 minutes of my life. If this speech does go down in American history as one of the greatest ever, I'm going to be pretty disgusted with this country's desire to pat itself on the back at every possible turn. We don't always put out Dr. King-caliber speeches, so we need to quit looking for those speeches so goddamn hungrily and trying to put the bejeweled crown of greatness onto lesser orations. When the next Dr. King speech comes along, it won't require debate between English scholars or political pundits. It'll be something universally recognized as "Wow. :o"