People have had very different reactions to Senator Barrack Obama’s speech on religion. Many thought it was cynical (for example, in equating the virulent bigotry and anti-Americanism of Pastor Wright’s statements with the misguided prejudices of his own grandmother) while others thought it was a masterful and important step in creating greater racial understanding.
I doubt that the speech will undo all of the political damage done by the Wright episode, but I tend to agree with Abigal Thernstrom who wrote today on NRO about the speech as a powerful, persuasive and important look at race relations in America. She wrote:
I guess I’m not supposed to like Senator Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech – at least if I want to keep my conservative credentials intact. But I did – and join Charles Murray in celebrating its subtlety, seriousness, and patriotism. What other prominent contemporary black politician could or would have given such a speech?
Yes, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is full of hateful, anti-American rhetoric, but his views are clearly not those of the Illinois senator. Indeed, the Philadelphia speech had something of Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief in what Obama called his “the decency and generosity of the American people.” As King did, Obama appealed to our better angels, asking Americans to join him in continuing the “long march . . . for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring, and more prosperous America.” And he distanced himself from those who, like Wright, depicted a “profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that is right with America. . . . “
I agree that Senator Obama’s thoughtful observations about the roots of racial tension were enlightening and even useful in generating greater empathy across groups. I don’t know that it completely put to rest lingering feelings that Senator Obama, like many on the Left, don’t fully embrace America as the greatest country on Earth. Senator Obama said that he profoundly loves the country, and I am sure he does, but his willingness to sit through and be associated with someone expressing such anti-American sentiments-coupled with Michelle Obama’s statements of not having felt proud of her country until her husband’s presidential run–makes that love seem more qualified or grudgingly given than many of us.
But mostly, where Dr. Thernstorm leaves off –“Does “moving beyond” mean massive new government programs unlikely to solve the basic race-related problems? Probably, but that is a topic for another day.” –is where I want to pick up, because while I found Senator Obama’s commentary and observations on race compelling, his suggestion that embracing his policy prescription of big government liberalism was the sole path to racial healing was not only wrongheaded, but offensive. He said:
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations….
As his speech continues, it becomes clear that the “deeds” that he demands as the path to a more perfect union is bigger government, more spending on schools, socialized medicine, protectionism, and essentially classic tax-and-spend liberalism. Each of these policy items could be dissect on its own to show how it would be bad for America (for example, protectionism leading to higher prices and less growth both at home and overseas, particularly in developing countries that those on the Left always claim to care about), but I’ll just quickly touch on one.
Education spending. The idea that what we can fix the miserable public schools that plague our inner cities by “investing” more, or in other words dumping more public money into the system, should by now be wholly discredited. Education spending has gone through the roof in recent decades and that hasn’t changed test scores one bit. Increasingly policymakers from across the political spectrum are recognizing that we have to change the dynamic, by put power in the hands of parents through school choice programs as the best way to get schools to improve. Senator Obama has been basically mute about school choice, almost certainly because he doesn’t want to offend teachers unions who loath any measure that would give kids options other than the government-run schools. That’s to be expected I suppose, but to suggest that those who don’t embrace classic tax-and-spend liberalism aren’t “addressing the legacy of discrimination” is insulting.