A Sister Souljah Wallace moment?

Is Barack Obama planning a Sister Souljah speech tomorrow?

Barack Obama will give a major speech on "the larger issue of race in this campaign," he told reporters in Monaca, PA just now.

He was pressed there, as he has been at recent appearances, on statements by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

"I am going to be talking about not just Reverend Wright, but the larger issue of race in this campaign," he said.

He added that he would "talk about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church issue for example," he said.

He also briefly defended Wright from the image that has come through in a handful of repeatedly televised clips from recent Wright sermons.

"The caricature that's being painted of him is not accurate," he said.

The speech could offer Obama an opportunity to move past the controversy over his pastor, and to turn the conversation to a topic he'd rather focus on: his Christian faith. But the speech also guarantees that the Wright story will continue to dominate political headlines.

I have no idea what he plans to say, but I think he still has a chance -- a slim one, but a chance -- to turn what seems like a mortal blow to his advantage. He needs to repudiate his own past, though, and he must use the Wright controversy as an argument and an opportunity to call for real change in race relations. If he admits the mistakes -- and the racism -- of Wright and himself for buying into it, it might work. But he'll have to do so convincingly. Reassuring platitudes won't cut it.

Were I he, I might even cite the example of Alabama Governor George Wallace, an ardent white racist segregationist who saw beyond it and truly reformed.

I don't know whether he has it in him to do it.

If he can't turn this around, he will surely lose against McCain in the fall, and (more ominously) I think the senior leadership of the Democratic Party knows it.

UPDATE (03/18/08): In today's Wall Street Journal, Shelby Steele sees Barack Obama a "bargainer" who has run aground of the "challenger" mentality of Jeremiah Wright:

....nothing could be more dangerous to Mr. Obama's political aspirations than the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday -- for 20 years -- in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church in which his own mother, not to mention other whites, could never feel comfortable. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a challenger who goes far past Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage ("God damn America").

How does one "transcend" race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?

What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity. And anyway, wasn't this hatred more rhetorical than real?

But this "usually hidden corner of contemporary black life" is now exposed to the "floodlight of a presidential campaign"...

Read it all.

MORE: Victor Davis Hanson has a great post on the "Wrightgate" affair:

Visiting the networks, or offering a speech on race, won't do, unless he honestly and forthrightly explains--as we know is true from his long church membership, his memoirs, his past interviews and film clips (cf. 6/5/07: "[Wright'] puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me, he's a friend, and a great leader"...)--that he showed poor judgment in maintaining an intimate relationship with such a hate-monger, and that for there to be reciprocal racial respect and harmony in this country, then all parties must respect basic protocols of speech and reference--and therefore he is resigning from the church while expressing an apology for his past de facto sanction of such a firebrand.

Blaming others for "divisiveness" or "cherry-picking" or whining that similar scrutiny is not devoted to Sen. Clinton's church, or contextualizing Wright's venom on something like the Huffington Post is a prescription for abject disaster.

One wonders at this point whether the Senator would prefer not to be president of the United States than tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the nature of Rev. Wright and his own connection with him?

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

MORE: Mickey Kaus offers Obama plenty of Souljah moments:

There are plenty of potential Souljahs still around: Race preferences. Out-of-wedlock births. Three strike laws! But most of all the victim mentality that tells African Americans (in the fashion of Rev. Wright's most infamous sermons) that the important forces shaping their lives are the evil actions of others, of other races. ...
(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

Well, Obama did touch on the race preference Souljah, but blamed "the economic policies that favor the few over the many":

..a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

MORE: Victor Davis Hanson looks at the speech, and concludes,

The message? Some of us are never quite responsible for what we say. And Obama has no responsibility to explain the inexplicable of how he closely tied himself to someone of such repugnant and racist views. We will never hear "It's time for Rev. Wright and me to part our separate ways, and here's why."

Instead, the entire Wright controversy evolved due to America's failure to understand the Wright's past and the present status of race. No doubt, the next time some public figure utters a racist comment -- and it will happen -- we will then expect to hear about context that explains and excuses such an apparent hurtful outburst.

Obama is right about one thing: We are losing yet another opportunity to talk honestly about race, to hold all Americans to the same standards of public ethics and morality, and to emphasize that no one gets a pass peddling vulgar racism, or enabling it by failing to disassociate himself from its source -- not Rev. Wright, not even the eloquent, but now vapid, Barack Obama.

AND MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Roger L. Simon is poetically blunt:

Barack, your speech was bullshit.

Barack, this isn't about generations.

Barack, this isn't about the black church.

Barack, this is about a pathological minister whose uncontrolled anger wounds his own people and keeps them down.

Barack, this is about a man who ignored that rage for his own political gain and even now won't admit a huge mistake and looks for nuance and excuses.

Barack, this about a woman who went on scholarship to Princeton and Harvard and still hates America.

Barack, you say you want Black-Jewish reconciliation but you hung with an anti-Semite.

Barack, I didn't do it for this.

Read it all.

posted by Eric on 03.17.08 at 04:37 PM


I get it. The speeches/sermons put out by Rev. Wright by his own church do not accurately reflect his views.


I'm really looking forward to Obama's pitch. We will soon find out if he is a closer.

M. Simon   ·  March 17, 2008 6:19 PM

I can't belive he used a Democrat "racist" for his rebuttal! Dolt! George Wallace "saw" beyond it and reformed alright, in a wheelchair!

KansasGirl   ·  March 17, 2008 7:05 PM

Is he going to repudiate Lady Michelle also? She seems pretty invested in the racial anger thing. It's been suggested it was her idea for the Obamas to attend Wright's church. I dunno if that's the case, but, if it is, can he throw her under the bus along with the good rev? I don't think so. Instead, we'll get the "You have no right to judge me" diatribe. Campaign go buh-bye now...

M. Murcek   ·  March 17, 2008 9:37 PM

It's not about Obama being a racist or not. Rather, it's about how Obama treats racists.

If you are a white racist, Obama will denouce you. If you are a black racist, Obama will embrace you.

Roy Mustang   ·  March 18, 2008 12:27 AM

if Barack were white, he'd be John Edwards. A relatively attractive Senator with a weak political track record, decent skills as an orator, and no chance at a White House bid.

Barack's speech will position himself as above the racist and anti-American rantings of his closest spiritual and political adviser. Through Rev. Wright's church, Obama as a person has become visible and he must remake himself as the blank canvas.

And the quivering and tingling MSM and other Democratic primary voters will lap it up, secure in the notion that he is more than an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson huckster.

St Wendeler   ·  March 18, 2008 10:11 AM

Get out the magnifying glass cause Obama is only at the beginning of his scrutiny. Obama was acceptable to the general populace as long as he was an educated well spoken and all inclusive likeable Black Man. Now that he is showing flaws, like being linked to a radical preacher lots of people who voted for him instead of Hillary are having buyers remorse. And, I’m not sure that even if his speech about this situation is a home run (which I don’t believe ti will be)the cracks are going to start to leak. And, with enough additional info about the rather “light weight” junior senator surely to be exposed he may snatch a Democratic defeat from the jaws of victory if he is the nominee.

CemeterySpot   ·  March 18, 2008 5:38 PM

I have thought for quite a while that he will lose against McCain if he is allowed to run against him.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 18, 2008 7:31 PM

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