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The 'Race' Speech Revisited

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, May 2, 2008

"I can no more disown him [Jeremiah Wright] than I can disown my white grandmother."

-- Barack Obama, Philadelphia, March 18

Guess it's time to disown Granny, if Obama's famous Philadelphia "race" speech is to be believed. Of course, the speech was not just believed. It was hailed, celebrated, canonized as the greatest pronouncement on race in America since Lincoln at Cooper Union. A New York Times columnist said it "should be required reading in classrooms across the country." College seniors and first-graders, suggested the excitable Chris Matthews.

Apparently there's been a curriculum change. On Tuesday, the good senator begged to extend and revise his previous remarks on race. Moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright is now, as the Nixon administration used to say, inoperative. Poor Geraldine Ferraro, thrice lashed by Obama in Philadelphia as the white equivalent of Wright's raving racism, is off the hook.

These equivalences having been revealed as the cheap rhetorical tricks they always were, Obama has now decided that the man he simply could not banish because he had become part of Obama himself is, mirabile dictu, surgically excised.

At a news conference in North Carolina, Obama explained why he finally decided to do the deed. Apparently, Wright's latest comments -- Obama cited three in particular -- were so shockingly "divisive and destructive" that he had to renounce the man, not just the words.

What were Obama's three citations? Wright's claim that AIDS was invented by the U.S. government to commit genocide. His praise of Louis Farrakhan as a great man. And his blaming Sept. 11 on American "terrorism."

But these comments are not new. These were precisely the outrages that prompted the initial furor when the Wright tapes emerged seven weeks ago. Obama decided to cut off Wright not because Wright's words or character or views had suddenly changed. The only thing that changed was the venue in which Wright chose to display them -- live on national TV at the National Press Club. That unfortunate choice destroyed Obama's Philadelphia pretense that this "endless loop" of sermon excerpts being shown on "television sets and YouTube" had been taken out of context.

Obama's Philadelphia oration was an exercise in contextualization. In one particularly egregious play on white guilt, Obama had the audacity to suggest that whites should be ashamed that they were ever surprised by Wright's remarks: "The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning."

That was then. On Tuesday, Obama declared that he himself was surprised at Wright's outrages. But hadn't Obama told us that surprise about Wright is a result of white ignorance of black churches brought on by America's history of segregated services? How then to explain Obama's own presumed ignorance? Surely he too was not sitting in those segregated white churches on those fateful Sundays when he conveniently missed all of Wright's racist rants.

Obama's turning surprise about Wright into something to be counted against whites-- one of the more clever devices in that shameful, brilliantly executed, 5,000-word intellectual fraud in Philadelphia -- now stands discredited by Obama's own admission of surprise. But Obama's liberal acolytes are not daunted. They were taken in by the first great statement on race: the Annunciation, the Chosen One comes to heal us in Philly. They now are taken in by the second: the Renunciation.

Obama's newest attempt to save himself after Wright's latest poisonous performance is now declared the new final word on the subject. Therefore, any future ads linking Obama and Wright are preemptively declared out of bounds, illegitimate, indeed "race-baiting" (a New York Times editorial, April 30).

On what grounds? This 20-year association with Wright calls into question everything about Obama: his truthfulness in his serially adjusted stories of what he knew and when he knew it; his judgment in choosing as his mentor, pastor and great friend a man he just now realizes is a purveyor of racial hatred; and the central premise of his campaign, that he is the bringer of a "new politics," rising above the old Washington ways of expediency. It's hard to think of an act more blatantly expedient than renouncing Wright when his show, once done from the press club instead of the pulpit, could no longer be "contextualized" as something whites could not understand and only Obama could explain in all its complexity.

Turns out the Wright show was not that complex after all. Everyone understands it now. Even Obama.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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