Obama Turns Embarrassment into Opportunity
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Pundits are still debating whether Barack Obama's speech this Tuesday in Philadelphia helped or hurt his presidential campaign. Obama tried to lay to rest of the controversy over remarks made by his pastor, and he offered a long analysis of race relations in America.
He drew strong praise for the speech, it's been compared to addresses by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. But polls suggest it did not boost his standing among voters. The latest Gallup tracking poll gives Hillary Clinton a five-point lead in the Democratic race for president. She had been trailing Obama since early February. Other surveys find Obama has lost ground since his pastor's remarks became widely known.
Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says Tuesday's speech has made him look differently at Barack Obama's candidacy.
DANIEL SCHORR: Two days after Senator Obama's Philadelphia speech, it appears that he's managed to convert a looming embarrassment into an opportunity. I'm reminded of 1960, when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressed head-on the issue of his Catholicism in a memorable speech in Houston. So, now, the candidate has brought in to the open the residue of anger among some African-Americans about past and perhaps present discrimination in a memorable speech in Philadelphia.
That was not how it looked as recently as January when in the wake of Senator Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses, the Economist and New Yorker magazines wrote of a post-racial generation that had transcended America's past racial division. I must admit that I was among those whose commentaries struck the post racial theme. But then came Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to remind us in video clips that there are people who experienced the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and still regard America as endemically racist.
In such a situation, Obama would have been understood if he had chosen to repudiate the pastor who performed his marriage. After all, it was Obama who had declared before the Democratic Convention in 2004 that there is no black America or white America, but there is a United States of America. But rather than somebody denouncing Wright as a crank or a demigod, Obama is sort of put him into context as one of a generation that had come of age when discrimination was still the law of the land. Obama's theme was that America can now move beyond old racial wounds and not become victims of the past.
It was a masterful performance, responding not only to the verbal excesses of the Reverend Wright, but to the suggestion of one time vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, that he wouldn't have made it to be a presidential candidate if he weren't black.
I am willing, along with my journalistic colleagues, to retire post-racial until some future contest.
This is Daniel Schorr.
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