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March 18th, 2008
01:09 PM ET

Gergen: Obama and the "racial deadlock"

Over the next several days, we will chatter a lot about the political fallout from Sen. Barack Obama's speech today.  My initial sense is that he may have lanced the boil but he will continue to feel some pain from his association with the Reverend Wright for a while to come.

Obama speech

But even as we dissect the politics, is it possible to stand back and make a different set of observations: From my perspective, watching alone from a hotel in Florida, I found it refreshing to have a political candidate who finally talks to us as mature adults and also appeals to what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

We have become so accustomed to political "leaders" who treat us like children, spoon feeding us with platitudes and playing upon our prejudices, that we forget what it is like to have a serious conversation about our challenges as a people.  One important role of a leader is to serve as an educator, clarifying how we have arrived where we are and what our choices are as we look toward the future.

Obama did that well today.

Listening to him, I was reminded at one point of Franklin Roosevelt's observation that the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership – a place where men like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt have clarified the great moral choices of our history.

This speech will not enter Bill Safire's anthology of great oratory.  It was too larded with his standard campaign rhetoric toward the end.  It will not end the controversy. It will not answer questions about whether he and his team are truly ready.  And for those who remember how another man who made serious speeches, Adlai Stevenson, went down to defeat to a war hero, it brings no guarantees of electoral success.

But at moments, it was an eloquent and moving expression of who Barack Obama is and what he represents - and how, just maybe, we could address and one day overcome our "racial deadlock".

- David Gergen, CNN Sr. Political Analyst

Program note: Watch David Gergen's analysis on tonight's 360° at 10p ET

soundoff (220 Responses)
  1. Wayne

    I am a white male 66 years old, have gone to a white baptist church all my life and NEVER have I heard our pastor or a visiting preacher, preach from the pull pit about politics at any level. Why do we expect anything else from people in America who want to be identified as anything but AMERICANS?

    March 18, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  2. Diane

    David,
    I loved your comment -

    "Listening to him, I was reminded at one point of Franklin Roosevelt’s observation that the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership – a place where men like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt have clarified the great moral choices of our history."

    You are absolutely correct, these are men who held up the idea moral leadership. Barack did not condemn his friend, the Pastor, but only condemned his comments – citing that you cannot condemn or judge the entire person for a comment or belief that you do not agree with. He stood firm, yet was honest about his feelings and I respect this immensly.

    I only hope my fellow Americans see that it is time to stop living in the shadow of "status quo" or "just good enough", and begin to believe in something good again, someone who can not only be our President, but be our leader.

    March 18, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  3. di

    I wish to offer my perspective as a Canadian on Obama’s speech. Our country is multicultural with all the baggage that that carries, but no politician in Canada or, I believe, your country, has ever come close to addressing the race issue in the way Obama has. It gave me shivers to hear such honesty.

    March 18, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  4. Sallie

    Shannon & Hoping,
    It is sad where we are in this country with the tension between races. With regards to Rev. Wright and Barack, I feel that many of the white people in this country are farther along than they are. In fact, I'm totally disappointed in Barack. He seems to say whatever will politcally benefit him at the time. If he wanted to bridge the gap, he should never have been a part of this church and the messages that were being delivered to the congregation. Did these messges not petpetuate racism among the young people and his children in that church? I don't believe he is who he says he is. I don't trust him anymore. He has lost my vote and the support of my family. He is a wonderful writer, but that's all he is. His "words don't matter " anymore. Teaching journalism at a college somewhere would be a good job for Barack, not leader of this country.

    March 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm |
  5. Indiana

    I will never understand why an African American can say and do anything racist and not be held accountable racist ideas, but let a white person(Geraldine Feraro for example), say anything remotely racially biased and they are instantly banisted from society. Racism is alive in this country and it is being practiced by both blacks and whites.

    Obama may not be a racist, however, his association with the "Reverend" Wright, who is obviously racist, is suspect.

    March 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  6. Steve

    Barack Obama is a very smooth and gifted speaker. He was able to win the votes all over America. However, how can he say he would unite ALL people if for the last 20 years or so he has sit and listened to this type of dialogue spewing hate and fear to every young person in the church. You cannot unite and cross the isle if you still believe American is that prejudice and vial. God only knows what Barack Obama's REAL agenda is once he is in office. I like to think it is for the good of ALL American and not just the Rev Wright crowd. I think I will vote for McCain because I really don't want to take the chance.

    March 18, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  7. dee

    My respect for Obama has soared today. In the midst of pressure he was able to be forthright.

    What his pastor said about America has been said by many other pastors white and other. That America is cursed because of it's sins. Against the unborn, etc... I am sure many Americans have sat under pastors who have said this from the pulpit because I have seen pastors of large congregations say that on TV.

    I believe Pastor Wright is being used as a political weapon by Obama detractors. I am a devout Christian and I love and pray for my country, but I also believe America needs to mend its ways in order to become the blessed country it was mean to be.

    March 18, 2008 at 8:00 pm |
  8. delores

    Rev. Wright was wrong and i do feel that obama should not be blamed for what he said or do. This is not his child, this is a grown
    man with his own way of thinking about the world in which he percieve
    it. Senator obama is a friend of his and sometimes as we all know people say thing that you disagree with on any giving day. Look let keep this thing real we are all adults that use the internet. All through i
    history comments has been made weather you was black or white,
    and this has been in all of our life since we were baby. Some of us has learn through life about racial comments and you have had racism on T.V.talk show that i have watched., were it was so much hate that Talk show host has to bleep it out, everyone in america has had a feel of racial comments. Rev. Wright is not the first pastor to make racial comments and he won't be the last. As for Obama i would not judge him by the company he keep i would judged the man himself.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Kimba

    I have listened to Obama speak and he is definitely a good orator, however there is very little substance behind his words. That is why I will not be voting for him. In addition, he has not proven that he can take the heat from the opposition and if he gets the nomination the furnance will be stoked up a 1,000 degrees.

    I find it odd that he has demanded Hillary release her records however, he has not released even ONE tax return. Hillary(and Bill) have released 20 YEARS of tax returns and White House records.

    If Obama gets the nomination, I will be a democrat for McCain.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm |
  10. Steven McCain

    Look at the reaction when blacks say in public that they are upset. Do you ever wonder why blacks think the only safe place to vent is the church. Seeing katrina how could any black person in America not be upset. Guess blacks are to run fast do lay ups and swing a mean golf club. But they dare not be upset

    March 18, 2008 at 7:44 pm |
  11. Natalie in Chicago

    When I was a little girl... My mother only listened to talk radio. And on the show's that she chose to listen to were usually with conservative host. My brother and I wondered "why did she make us listen to these shows?" She commented when I was much older her comment was "so that you can no how some people really feel about you, these wont be the conversations that they have with you in person. These are some of the private thoughts of white america." Was she wrong for doing this?

    March 18, 2008 at 7:32 pm |
  12. parker

    i think that the person who got thrown under the bus in the obama speech was not rev. wright but the poor white grandma who loved him so much. how terrible humiliating her like that to further his career. what kind of man would do that to the woman who raised him. very telling.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:30 pm |
  13. jdmason3

    Why didn't Obama have a press conference instead of a lecture?
    If you can be honest with yourselves, you can answer my question.
    What is Hillary suppose to do? Just quit and roll out the red carpet for "THE ANNOINTED ONE". Wake up america, this guy is conning us just like "W" did. There is no minority status in american politics.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Anita

    Obama's poor grandmother............I cannot believe he compared some racial remarks that she had made to him in private to his "minister" whom spoke to hundreds, degrading not only whites, but the very country that Obama wants to be president of ! This makes me furious , shut up Obama before you throw your whole family under the bus just to save your "minister" !!

    March 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm |
  15. Judy

    David,
    I usually agree with you and your analysis which is always thoughtful, and profound. This time I find your thinking a bit flawed. After listening to Senator Obama's speech I feel no better about his relationship with this devisive figure than I did before. All he did was justify his "means to an end." What I really found objectionable was the comparison of his"white grandmother 's fear of black men," and this vile pastor. Maybe Barack's grandmother had heard too many sermons given by pastor's filled with hatred and venom. Sorry but I remain extremely disappointed in someone that seemed so promising.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  16. kathy

    Seems to me Wright is on the same level as Farrakan, Sharpton and O.J. This whole deal has just exposed more of them.
    Although I wouldn't vote for Obama I really don't think its fair to be putting him down so much.
    I wonder how loyal his followers will be now. I bet I know who is cackling her fool head off today.
    At least OB talked about what we all talk about behind closed doors so we don't have to be afraid of the speech police. To heck with political correctness.
    The reality of the past. Its history. move on.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  17. Andy J.

    I think that if the Country misses the chance to have Obama as our number Leader, it will be a sad day. I think he brings the kind of change the Mcain and Clinton can't begain to understand. This church thing is so stupid. This situation is just not worth the time given to it. Obama has let the country into his soul. He is giving us the chance to be better as a nation. He is the one to bring us back to where we all need to be. I really hope that all of reach for change. Dare to be better and different. Vote Obama in November. I am proud to cast my vote for a man like him.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  18. MonicaPG

    As you can see from our history, you cannot legislate behaviour, opinion or intelligence, and you can't legislate unity. Obama's speech hit the nail on the head and, again, if you weren't in support of him because of the so-called (non) issue of religion (let's see-first he was a muslim, and, by association therefore a terrorist/terrorist sympathizer; because he was black (oh and we're NOT supposed to notice) he was "inexperienced", but then because of his white heritage and Harvard education he wasn't "black" enough......oh, and because he INSISTED that he was a Christian and not a muslim, now we have to dig in and see just how "Christian" he is.....well, since his pastor said some things about the failings of America and calls sin what it is...sin (Oh, I'm sorry...America is perfect and therefore can only be blessed by God as the favored nation....we do NO wrong) then he truly is unqualified and is less of an American, is less of a Christian and, by association MUST be a racist.........

    And all of those who are as simple-minded to be swayed by this, well, you have the freedom of choice to be stupid and you feed into the politics of all those "experienced" patriots before you who prey on, and count on you thinking just the way you do. Division and polarization on superficial issues has been and continues to be big business in America. And too many of Americas best and brightest, be they black/white/asian/latino/native, christian/muslim/atheist/other, man/woman, rich/"poor" hetero/homo-sexual or other have been passed over because we spend way too much time concentrating on these issues. The problem with Obama, more than anything else is that he is a refreshing idea way before its time. America is too small, too lazy and is comfortable being imprisioned in the very culture that contradicts what we SAY we are.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  19. Independent in Nevada

    Sen. Obama did a wonderful speech, but he waited too long for this issue to boomerang before confronting his association with Rev. Wright.
    It's a little too late now...
    Independent in Nevada

    March 18, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  20. CHARLENE IN VA

    obama rode the fence on this one playing it safe, i dont believe a word he said, he lied before when he said that he wasnt there, i am a black women and i will not be voting for him come this nov, i will vote for Mc cain, if i cant trust him now i know i want be able to believe anything thing he say once he get in the white house , atlease with the other canadates you know what you getting.

    March 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm |
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