Drudge managed to get a hold of an advance copy of Barack Obama’s speech today. No doubt it will inspire millions of Americans and relieve millions more. It has soaring rhetoric and artful turns of phrase.
What it doesn’t have – despite what are sure to be the claims of the Obama camp in particular and Democrats in general – is anything new.
Obama’s speech reminds us of one of the two fundamental facts about race and the American political system – that this nation has suffered under a racial divide in politics since at least 1865. This is not news to many people (although my choice of date may be challenged, and not entirely without merit).
However, there is one more fundamental fact: the American left and center-left have been arguing that big government can unite all poor Americans and heal the racial divide since 1866. This one is not so well-known. Most Americans know far less about history than they should, and even in Dixie, where both history and race-relations are given far more sensitivity, the period between 1865 and 1953 seems to have been forgotten. Still, Obama’s speech, platform, and policy prescriptions are themselves as old as Jim Crow.
Radical Republicans used it, in part, during Reconstruction (and somewhat after it). FDR practically built the southern wing of his political coalition on it, as did Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. The fact that Carter had a harder time than Johnson in Dixie reveals that, in fact, big government doesn’t accomplish this.
To see why, take a look at the crux of Obama’s argument:
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.
For starters, Obama asks African-Americans, other minorities, and poor whites not to end their feelings of hatred and resentment, but to point them in another direction - towards an “acceptable” villain. Thus, Obama is just as divisive as his would-be critics, but since the division is one of class rather than race, it sounds (to some) to be unifying and healing. It’s not.
Moreover, it takes class and blithely assumes that they are as immutable as race. Are poor Americans destined to be poor forever? Obama seems to think so. Are Americans currently wealthy today guaranteed to keep their fortune? Are their heirs? Again, for Obama, these are certainties. In the American economy, however, none of these things are certain.
Finally, Obama’s vision of America approaching perfection, because that vision is firmly planted to America’s left, ignores several things. Here are just a few.
No mention of removing government barriers to entrepreneurship, so men and women of all races and creeds can start a business, create jobs, and provide goods and services to their communities
No mention of creating an economic climate where those who have succeeded are rewarded and thus have the incentive to invest in America and advance her forward
No mention of mobilizing Americans of all creeds and races to win the war and defeat our enemies. In fact, war is only mentioned twice, and both times it is considered simply a scourge to be ended, not a struggle that must be won
Obama’s silence on these matters is deafening. In fact, the last one goes to the point that forced Obama to make this speech in the first place: Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama goes to great length to try and explain Wright’s anger at America’s failings. Unfortunately, Obama does not explain, because he cannot explain, Wright’s fierce anti-Americanism on international matters.
Many would assume the latter can simply sprout from the former, but that is hardly necessary. Thousands of African-Americans who suffered under discrimination in America still chose to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Afterwards, hundreds of thousands more served in our military despite suffering discrimination. For decades, leading members of the African American community – Roy Wilkins and George Schuyler, among others – were determined anti-Communists who knew full well that whatever white Americans thought about their skin color, America’s enemies saw only their nationality and hated them for it.
Now, Barack Obama is still a departure from other African-American Democratic politicians. His belief in American exceptionalism remains – he repeated it here in this speech. However, it is now clear that it is rooted in a left-wing vision of America that does not exist and that must not exist.
In short, this speech did not reveal a new agenda or a fresh vision for America; instead, it revealed how Marxism (yes, that’s what this was) has adapted to the 21st Century. This was an old platform in new rhetoric – and nothing more.
OTHER REACTIONS: J.R. at Bearing Drift and Leslie Carbone also weigh in (this list will likely lengthen as the day goes on).