Race and Politics

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks about race and politics in Philadelphia.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks about race and politics in Philadelphia. Source: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Source: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

A little behind the scenes today: we had planned a segment for this afternoon on the role of white voters in the presidential election. Some argue that white men are the new soccer moms. After listening to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speak earlier today, however, it became clear that people weren't talking about the role of white voters, specifically. They were talking about Sen. Obama's speech... a personal and open discussion of race in America, and an effort to overcome the criticism he's taken recently over the past remarks of his former pastor.* Of course, the question after almost every political speech is: did it accomplish what he set out to do? Who were his remarks aimed at? And did those voters hear it that way? We'll talk about race in America and in politics during the second hour today. What's your take?

* Full transcript of the speech here.



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Today's speech, like much of his campaign, attempts to get beyond decades of sound bite politics. Whether the issue is race, economic disparity, tax policy, health care, social security or the Iraq war, the reality is that the issue is complex and Americans from both sides of the political spectrum have views rooted in their realty. Obama is the only political leader with the intellect, empathy and human experience to truly bring us together. His books show us a man who has struggled to understand himself and America. He has thought deeply about both and is uniquely able, as a result of his thoughtfulness and oratorical skills, to help us understand the complexity necessary to find common ground and solutions that all but the fringes of America can live with and recognize as progress, even if not all that each side desires. He does not appeal to our base emotions, he appeals to the best in us. He does not promise us easy answers, but hard work, and hope that yes, we can. I am a 58 year old white female lawyer and I support his candidacy. If thoughtful discourse fails, then we will continue to get polarizing, over simplified sound bites from our politicians, another generation of distrustful, scornful and jaded negativity in our citizens and no progress in solving the complex problems we face.

Sent by Margie | 2:49 PM | 3-18-2008

Obama openness create and opportunity. I hope we take this opportunity and his suggestion to move to substantive issues, and to look at the content of the character of the candidates that are before us.

Sent by Graham P. | 3:13 PM | 3-18-2008

Let's be honest here. Mr. Obama's problems stem from his choice to maintain a relationship with a person of authority who uses his position to spread divisive and hateful speech. Now that he's been forced to distance himself, he's attempting to present his situation as a great societal question of morality and justice. But it's not. It's about his choice to associate with hate.

Sent by Susan | 3:18 PM | 3-18-2008

I occasionally go to a spiritual awareness center. The reverend there has never once preached hate or fear. The few past sermons of Reverend Wright that I have viewed reek with racism. As for Obama's speech. You can't pick your family members. You can pick your friend.

Sent by Sonia | 3:20 PM | 3-18-2008

Every time Obama and his white handlers are looking at a lead by Hilary Clinton in an upcoming primary, THEY play the race card in hopes, I think, of exploiting white guilt to shift the focus and grab the news from Hilary. I do not think this speech has much to do with racism in America. I did civil rights work in the South in the 1960s, lots of it, and I am appalled to see Obama's attempt to seize the fragments of that party and mold them together around a totally false racial crisis. The South is still profoundly racist; America is still profoundly racist. That will deeply affect the real election adversely to Obama. His belated focus on race as the problem in America which need to be totally solved now? is just cover for a campaign aimed at the seizure of power on the dubious basis of trust and belief--where have you heard that before--G W Bush's campaign I think. This speech like the other assertions of racist content in the opposing campaign is just an attempt to upstage Hilary and slow down her momentum in PA. Did the press cover her speech on the war?? Not much.

Sent by Lucretia Collier | 3:23 PM | 3-18-2008

With this speech I finally see someone who has DECISIVELY picked up the torch dropped when MLK Jr. was cut down. We finally have a leader worthy of that famed mantle. The speech gave me chills.

Sent by - David | 3:27 PM | 3-18-2008

My problem is this - when my denomination did something I didn't agree with (declining to accept gays as members) I did what I think any person of religious conscience should do - I walked out. How am I supposed to vote for a man who is campaigning on his judgment when he did not walk away from this pastor until he got in political trouble because of his association with him?

Sent by Kimberly Ligocki | 3:29 PM | 3-18-2008

i disagree with richard wolfe by saying obama is lacking judgment by not confronting this sooner.He did now because this is the right moment.

Sent by colosus | 3:34 PM | 3-18-2008

I'm a sixty year-old white guy in Iowa. What I saw today was leadership. I saw the kind of leadership that this country is hungering for. I have been watching for too long. I am reaching for my checkbook.

Sent by g shaeffer | 3:37 PM | 3-18-2008

the guest on totn was wrong... obama denounced wright's comments last week when the story broke...

Sent by jt | 3:39 PM | 3-18-2008

I live in Maryland; we have something called Maryland General Assembly Legislative Black Caucus. Here's a link
It's an example of the sometimes legitimate one way street of racism.
It's bizarre that the first paragraph talks about the needs of the African American Community. Please correct me if I'm wrong but when a white racist puts all African Americans into one group; he's a vile racist. But when it's a goal of some well-meaning but racially motivated group of legislators it's okay? Silly. Where's the Legislative White Caucus? That's why you can't talk seriously about race in the U.S.A. It's an exercise in absurdity.

Sent by Mike | 3:39 PM | 3-18-2008

His speech today, while I liked it, doesn't change much do to the fact he made it after criticism and after his spiritual mentors bigoted statements were exposed. This shows he is a politician like all the others.

There are many double standards at play. It's not okay to use your minority status to justify bigotry, as if you have earned the right. Back to this again: If Obama was white and his preacher made these types of comments he would be crucified, there would be no forgiveness. This is not racism to point this out, it is analysis. What is racist is to sit in the audience. If you sit in an audience of a church and associate with a man who makes the statements the Wright made, you are guilty by association.

If anyone was discriminated against in these presidential races it was Romney, who I would never support, but he was clearly discriminated against because of his religion. No one really came to his defense either.

Sent by Scott Millar | 3:41 PM | 3-18-2008

It's very interesting to hear and read comments by people who have only listened to sound bites of sermons by Jeremiah Wright. Contrary to the belief of those who have only listened to the sound bites and never attended or listened to a full sermon, Jeremiah Wright is not full of hate. While I don't agree with everything he says, I can be objective in stating my opinion on him rather than jumping to a conclusion based on what the media feeds me. As an African-American, I know many older African-Americans who agree with Jeremiah Wright about the way this country has treated it's African-American citizens. I will not disown them because they have an opinion based on their experiences. Barack Obama's speech was honest and to the point.

Sent by Kim | 3:44 PM | 3-18-2008

To talk of the Reverend Wright as simply a purveyor of "divisive and hateful speech" is a shallow and I have to say likely a self-serving analysis. As a white feminist, I remember very clearly the anger in the Lesbian-feminist community of 20 years ago, and the amount of divisive and yes even hateful speech that was expressed in reaction to very real oppression. There is a current in the black community in the US today that to my ears mirrors that kind of anger. Sometimes it is a necessary path to go along for a time, as people start to push back against the overwhelming forces in the culture that tell them that they are less-than. It is very important for us to try to understand this anger, the reasons for it, not to just self-righteously dismiss people who express this anger in ways that make us cringe.

Sent by Kathryn Burlingham | 3:48 PM | 3-18-2008

Obama is the last hope America has to redeem itself in the world. If we as citizens and the Media too, badger him with all these issues that someone else said then we deserve to have the same old garbage we have had in the past. I travel a lot, and most people around the world have the same opinion of the us as what, Rev Wright said..we are the aggressors in the world's eye, lets be critical of our foreign policy and not hide our heads under the sand. We fought a war on a lie, think about all those children traumatized by the fighting in Iraq, do we need more anger and hatred for the next 100 years. Those young children will not think of America as a great nation but a war Mongering Nation that scared them for life. Think of the young men coming back fighting a war that should have never been, wounded maimed for life. Did they deserve this? Think of all the mothers and fathers on both sides who have lost their children, do they resent out foreign policy. Are we safer because of this... NO.We need someone who is compassionate, who is a global person. The world is no longer USA and the rest. Look at the financial crisis we have created. Bush and Cheney and their cronies have no concept what reality is, they haven't lost anyone in this war so lets get real and embrace a candidate who may change the status instead of losing this one last chance of rising above the cesspool created by the Bush administration

Sent by maha | 3:51 PM | 3-18-2008

I am a white member of the United Church of Christ, and a graduate of Pacific School of Religion. Excerpts from sermons by Dr. Wright were used in my homiletics class as examples of great preaching. We did not hear any of the segments being "looped" by the cable TV networks. I will continue to support Obama, and applaud his addressing the issue of race that is all too often avoided in this country.

Sent by Gail A. Williams | 3:52 PM | 3-18-2008

We will never have equality if blacks continue to cause the majority of violent crimes in america.

Sent by Chris | 3:53 PM | 3-18-2008


Sent by jt | 4:00 PM | 3-18-2008

I agree that Obama gave a wonderful speech, and denounced the thoughts and speeches of his pastor. What I don't understand is that he has known about his pastor's ideology for 20 years, why did he not denounce that ideology years ago? And why did he put him on his political advisory committee when he knew this ideology?

Sent by Phyllis | 2:17 PM | 3-19-2008

Barack Obama's Unity speech was the greatest moment in American political history in decades. Obama spoke up (not down) to the American people.

My favorite line was : "This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."

In listening to the full text of Senator Obama's historic speech, I found a message of unity, healing, integrity, and complexity. He has a comprehension of the state of race relations in American, fashioned by his unique family history and life experiences, that few of us are privy to.

I am undisturbed by the incendiary remarks of his pastor and the fact that the Senator sat in church with his family listening to these diatribes. In fact, I believe this experience is an asset. It has afforded him a pulse on the American experience that most of us do not get. He has an educated, worldly, complex view of the human condition, partly shaped by university education, partly shaped by having the opportunity to live abroad, but also shaped by working in our most impoverished communities, and attending church with people from all walks of life.

Senator Obama has shown himself to be a man of intellect and integrity.
he has my vote now, more than ever.

Sent by Kathi Larkin | 2:50 PM | 3-19-2008

Barack Obama is to American politics, what Alexander Pushkin was to Russian literature, a breath of fresh air. History will show both as examples of how a bi-racial background can help develop insight into the human condition.

Sent by Robert Emiel Lee | 3:03 PM | 3-19-2008

Why must the Democratic Party continually shoot itself in the foot with distractions like the race issue in a year when it could be a slam dunk for them? I am so looking forward to the time when the infants and toddlers of this generation enter adult life and race will finally cease to be an issue in every aspect of society. As a child care worker in NC, I have observed some of the most racist Hillbilly and African - American families become united by their shared grandchildren. Someday soon, a generation will come of age that will prove America to be the melting pot we have so long pretended to be.

Sent by jeff haslam | 3:32 PM | 3-19-2008

Why has the Obama campaign, as well as media outlets, from NPR to CNN, not examined the whole of Wright's sermon from which this excerpt has been lifted? It had an historic message that most Americans would not disagree with. Why has not more information been given about the whole of his ministry at Trinity UCC in Chicago? Most Americans would applaud his efforts to empower and bring individuals to Christ? Why isn't anyone really interested in listening to the anger that still exists within the white culture? Why are people like the woman in North Carolina who feels compelled to slander Democratic candidates with an association with Obama? Why are so-called leaders like Ms Daves in NC still tying to appeal to the prejudices in our cultures in order to gain political power? What good is political power if it does not work for the benefit of all people? This is not the party of Lincoln but the party of frightened shortsighted individuals. I believe there should be an outcry against such racist tactics and a rally to begin an honest dialogue on race, power and politics and media fairness.
What can the individual do to speak out against a media that doesn't take the time to examine the whole of its story and against the political opportunists who are using peoples' fear to further their own ends?

Sent by Martha Hurley | 7:19 PM | 4-24-2008

Of course, the question after almost every political speech is: did it accomplish what he set out to do? Who were his remarks aimed at? And did those voters hear it that way? We'll talk about race in America and in politics during the second hour today. What's your take?

This is done after every political speech. You listen and the media hopes that you tune into the commentary after to learn what was said.

Why in elections do we spend so much time searching and spinning information in order to damage each other?

To me it is sad that one has to denounce someone important in their life to satisfy the very people in some cases that didn't even listen to whole speech.

Mr. Right said a lot of things. He said them with lots of compassion ,frustration,and anger . To me he was giving an overview of history.

His focus was on the hardships of the Black,culture
white culture and the cultures of other countries far away, do to actions of institutions larger then themselves. He was very inclusive.

We need to see him as a man who cares deeply not
only for america and its people but people all around
the world.

I would love to meet someone who hasn't during
times of utter frustration and anger not said strong
and seemingly condemning
words about and to people and institutions they truly
care for.

If we could learn to allow expressions of
frustration to be heard the same way we allow
expressions of praise It's my belief that the need for
frustration would become diminished,and people's
behavior toward one another would be like something we
have never experienced before.

Sent by David BEAUCHEMIN | 10:39 PM | 4-25-2008