Election 2008


This is DAY TO DAY. Hand guns in the nation's capital, a question for the Supreme Court. We'll hear from Dahlia Lithwick in a few minutes. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. First, in a big speech today in Philadelphia. Senator Barack Obama took on the issue that's been flickering throughout the Democratic presidential campaign - race.

This is a crucial moment for Senator Obama. Online and on TV there are clips of racially charged comments from his former pastor. This speech is his effort to answer the questions from those comments - the questions raised by those comments. NPR's David Greene is in Philadelphia for that speech. David, hello, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

DAVID GREENE: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'd like to start, though, by listening to a couple of things that Senator Obama said. Here he is describing these comments by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): They expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America, a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

CHADWICK: So there he is, he's denouncing the comments, David, but he goes on to say that he cannot disown Reverend Wright.

Senator OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown 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 her by on the street and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are part of me, and they are part of America, this country that I love.

CHADWICK: So there's Senator Obama speaking today in Philadelphia. David Greene, what else did you hear in this speech?

GREENE: Well, it was a very delicate balance, Alex. I mean, Barack Obama came out, and it was a risky move. I mean, you could almost - you can already hear some of those comments from Obama about Reverend Wright, you know, not being able to denounce him, not being able to, you know, disown him. It would be like disowning his own grandmother, and you know, you could see some of those clips showing up in Republican ads perhaps later on in the campaign.

So both denouncing what Pastor Wright has said but also embracing him as a person and as a spiritual leader and then making the turn and making the argument that Reverend Wright, you know, as much as Barack Obama has stood by him, you know, his lack of faith in the ability of America to change is not something that Barack Obama agrees with, and then he made the turn and said that he believes change is possible.

He disagrees with his pastor, and that's really the foundation of his campaign. So really taking this problematic last couple weeks when these comments have come to the fore and using them as a moment to sort of recapture the narrative when it comes to race.

CHADWICK: You know, I was uncertain who Senator Obama was speaking to in this crowd because it didn't seem like a Barack Obama speech, did it? Although I think this was his crowd there.

GREENE: Yeah, when you hear a Barack Obama speech, you're expecting to hear, I mean, just, you know, thousands of people cheering and chanting, but a very small room right here in Philadelphia, maybe only a couple hundred people, invited guests.

You know, I spoke with some people afterwards. They were local radio talk show hosts, local community leaders, very supportive crowd. The were quiet in the beginning, when Barack Obama was talking about Reverend Wright, and then sort of giving him a chance to do what he needed to do, I think.

But when Obama made the turn and started to talk more broadly about race and how it's playing in the campaign, you started to hear a few more applause lines.

But again, a small audience, a very supportive one. We don't know yet, at this point, how, you know, what Barack Obama said will be received by the rest of this city, the rest of this state, where there's a primary coming up, and the rest of the country.

CHADWICK: I wonder what the Obama campaign has been saying to you, particularly, David, to other political reporters, about this speech and this moment?

GREENE: Well, they're saying, and they used that very word, they used moment. It's an important moment. Barack Obama needed to sort of take the reigns here. He's not happy that a lot of these statements and a lot of this news has kind of turned more divisive. He is the candidate who has made the argument that he can unify, and if that's the kind of leader he wants to be, he needed to take this moment and make that argument strongly.

CHADWICK: NPR's David Greene, from Senator Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia. David, thanks for being with us again.

GREENE: It's always a pleasure, Alex.

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