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Obama Delivers
Most Crucial Speech of His Campaign

Obama Delivers
Most Crucial Speech of His Campaign


In the wake of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's potentially corrosive comments, Barack Obama gave a speech Tuesday that may define his candidacy.

Barack Obama took to the stage Tuesday to make what may well be the most critical speech of his presidential bid - an attempt to buttress his candidacy against the backdrop of incendiary comments made by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, that have been playing on a recurring loop since their appearance last week.

Obama, who leads Sen. Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates and is gaining momentum among the superdelegates she once dominated, faces a string of races in states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina that could either help him seal the deal, so to speak, or could foreshadow the unraveling of his candidacy.

For many Americans, Wright's words represent a viewpoint that they not only don't understand but that offends their patriotism. For LGBT folks, the footage of Obama's former pastor and spiritual guide crystallizes an unease that has been resting beneath the surface of the Illinois senator's candidacy: Do his deep ties to an African-American Christian church harbor the seeds of homophobia preached by many black ministers? This was the question laid bare when the campaign included antigay singer Donnie McClurkin in a gospel tour through South Carolina. Unfortunately, when watching the Reverend Wright point the finger at white racism and ask the Almighty to "damn America," one can easily picture preachers directing similar fire-and-brimstone fury toward gays and lesbians. (In truth, Rev. Wright has preached gay-inclusive sermons.)

Though Obama's speech may not entirely quell all doubts, it went a long way toward explaining how he could have followed the words of Wright for 20 years even if he, at turns, strongly disagreed with the message preached from Wright's pulpit.

While making it perfectly clear that he condemned the statements of Wright, Obama also did not disown the man who had been a friend, officiated his wedding, and baptized his children. Instead, Obama said the reverend, in all his imperfectness, was as much a piece of his identity as his white grandmother who raised him.

"He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years," said Obama. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

"These people are a part of me," concluded Obama. "And they are a part of America, this country that I love."

The speech attempted to take Wright's comments and put them in context, alongside many other realities that weave the colorful yet fragmented fabric of the country. It was a speech about black and white America that rendered nuance rather than stark choices.

In fact, the only choice Obama gave was one of either moving the nation forward or settling into a kind of stagnation.

"We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism," Obama continued. "We can tackle race only as spectacle, as we did in the O.J. trial, or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina, or as fodder for the nightly news.... We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that.... That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"

Regardless of your candidate, it was a speech worthy of consideration. How it will be received and whether it matched the mood of a majority of Americans will be left to the voters. But no doubt, it will define Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy in terms that the country either rejects or embraces.

(Full text of the Obama's speech is available here with video here.)

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