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A Comment on Barak Obama’s Philadelphia

Election Speech

Santhosh T Varghese
Lecturer in Economics
PM Govt. College, Chalakudy, Kerala, India.
(Affiliated to Calicut University)

It is true to say that Barak Hussein Obama’s Philadelphia (as it is delivered

at Philadelphia's National Constitution Centre) speech may be considered as a
sequestered one among the speeches that reflect the social and economic reality
of the present day world in general and US in particular. To some it is one among
the greatest speeches ever delivered. It may be considered as a sequestered one
because it clearly shows that the “predicament of politicians”—especially during
the run-up to power when confronting the barrage of criticisms—is ‘exactly same’,
which side of the equator you are notwithstanding.

In short, Obama is confronting multifaceted criticisms and even abuses

from the campaign side of Hilary Clinton ever since he proved that he is a real
challenger to the once-thought-the-solitary contender for the democratic
candidature for the Presidential election. Mrs Clinton became so nervous that
she used all the dirty tactics against him and tried to manipulate the general
sentiment among public by simply but cannily spreading rumours that Obama is
a Muslim. It is true that his Kenyan father is a Muslim but his mother is a white
US Christian and he is also a Christian. To prove that Obama supporters even
produced evidence that it was none other than Pastor Jeremiah Wright who
inculcated Obama into the faith of Christianity etc. Mrs. Clinton failed miserably,
then but not for all. She opened then the next obvious flood gate to Obama.
Suddenly the Sunday sermons of Pastor Jeremiah Wright were made readily

available with the media including youtube. The noteworthy fact about all these
sermons is that they all were delivered in the past period. But they were made
available as if they are delivered very recently! The common thread of all these
sermons (the main three charges against Pastor Wright) is the references to racial
discrimination of America, severe criticisms against US foreign policy, the view of
terrorist attack on US as a natural backlash of its own policies etc. The purport is
obvious. Plainly speaking, they have nothing to do either with the Presidential
elections or with Obama. But conclusions are swiftly drawn and they are
invariably linked with the credentials of Obama to lead USA. Just because of the
reason that Obama’s marriage was solemnised by Wright or his daughters were
baptised by him or he was brought into the faith by Wright or Wright was in the
support committee of Obama, one cannot blame Obama for whatever speeches
made by Wright. It all again proved that human beings respond in the same
manner, that is, they let ‘passion to rule over reason’. Other wise this new
controversy would not have happened. Now, given this situation, what Obama
must do, as just like any other politician who face a do or die battle? On April
22nd Obama is facing the vote at Pennsylvania state primary. Naturally he chose
the Philadelphia's National Constitution Center of Pennsylvania state to make a
reply to this virulent and nasty vilification campaign against him. In such a
situation what would be the natural response of any politician? The simple and
straight response would be to take a distance from the alleged three charges
against Wright. Obama also did the same thing, nothing else!! Thus came the
Obama speech at Philadelphia.

Many commentators thought that Obama in his speech pushed aside the
issues of racial discrimination and rose above the sectarian views and made a
clarion call for the discussion of issues which touch the USA as a whole. But BBC
news story clearly showed that this is only a fiction and they aptly titled one story
covering the Philadelphia speech as “Obama says US cannot ignore race” on 19th
Wednesday of March 2008. But it is true that Obama wanted to discuss that
issues which touch USA as whole also.

Thus the predicament of politicians is same regardless of the nation where
the election battle is fought. Since he is a half-black, to win the election he need
to win the white votes in a decisive manner. But now he has been painted as a
person who still nurtures the issue of racial discrimination. So he wanted to
convey the message that he has sympathy to the issues and problems of Whites
also. Hence he made a call to conduct a joint effort by blacks and whites to
overcome the problems of US in general rather than problems of black or white
alone. What else Obama could do in such a situation?

His political predicament is understandable, but the grounds cited by

Obama for a joint effort for the larger interests of America were so flimsy that it is
very visible that he trips frequently thought out that speech if one makes a closer
scrutiny. Thus it gives the impression that the Philadelphia speech was a clever
smokescreen meticulously crafted by Obama to ward off the vilification campaign
supposedly piloted by Mrs Clinton.

Let us first see what the commentators have to say:

David R. Henderson, research fellow with the Hoover Institution and

associate professor in Economics argued that there are three faults with the
Obama speech. First, Obama argued that Wright’s speech was full of hatred. But
Henderson argued that Wright’s speech has only anger and have no hatred.
Obama instead argued that Wright’s sermons were full of hatred and hence need
to be brushed aside and condemned. But if anger when expressed with
explanation cannot contain hatred, says Henderson. If that is the case, Obama’s
speech looses one of its grounds.

Secondly Obama distorted the speech of Wright just to make mileage and
strike a chord with the conservative whites who denounces Palestinian cause and
blindly supports Israel. Wright only said that "We (US) supported Zionism
shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anybody who spoke out
against it as being anti-Semitic." But Henderson pointed out that, in his speech,

Obama referred to Wright's view as: "...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." Henderson
said that, that may be what Wright believes – Obama would know better than I –
but that's certainly not what Wright said in the passage which Obama cited.

Third, Obama asks us to get past the race issue and look at the other issues
in the campaign. But Henderson said that, in doing so, he stired up resentment
against people (ie. The business managers) who are just as innocent as the
struggling black man and the struggling white man displaced by affirmative
action. Obama states: "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. Henderson pointed out that this is
only a standard Democratic riff about how nasty corporations have caused a
middle class squeeze and there have been Enrons (the notorious US company for
shady accounting practises), but is Obama seriously saying that these have been
so widespread as to make the middle class worse off?

Charles Krauthammer the columnist of Washington Post with the title,

“The Speech: A Brilliant Fraud” (Friday, March 21, 2008; Page A17) argued that
Obama's purpose in the speech was to put Wright's outrages in context. Charles
said that by context, Obama meant history. And by history, he meant the history
of white racism. He underlined that even though Obama in the speech said that
"We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country," but
proceeded to do precisely that. Charles asked what lied at the end of— Obama’s
recital of the long train of white racial assaults from slavery to employment
discrimination and said that it was nothing else other than Jeremiah Wright

Charles at last asked a question to Obama that if Wright is a man of the

past (as Obama played down Wright by saying that he is a man past), then why

would you expose your children to his vitriolic divisiveness and why did you gave
$22,500 just two years ago to a church run by a man of the past who infected the
younger generation with precisely the racial attitudes and animus you say you
have come unto us to transcend?

The essence of these comments is that Obama’s speech is only a

smokescreen to avoid the white backlash in the upcoming primary votes. Read
with this the polls findings that even though 90 % of the blacks support Obama
his support base among whites is still low.

I want to write more as to the ‘smokescreen’ argument but I feel that I

wrote too much. If any body writes back I will get a chance.

To conclude, indeed, Obama clearly accentuated the adverse impact of

white atrocities upon the blacks and clearly underscored that this issue cannot be
wished away. But at the same time, he wanted to show that he understand the
problems and hardships of whites also, otherwise how he could remain as a
Presidential aspirant! And ironically, Obama’s “hope” that he could give better
results for the whole USA clearly stems from the teachings of Wright especially
from the sermon of “Audacity to Hope”!!!