Are the Minister’s Remarks a Death Blow to Obama?

If Barack Obama becomes America’s next president—and that chance did not get any bigger this weekend—the speech he gave on March 18 in Philadelphia will go on record as a historical reason. At the same level as speeches by John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

There he stood, Barack Obama, the young Senator from Illinois, and the first black with a serious chance for the presidency. He spoke against the background of huge American flags, a stone’s throw away from the building where the American Constitution was written.

His political life in danger

The candidate with the black father and the white mother, who had consistently said that race had no place in this campaign, but who now suddenly found himself with his political life in danger. Therefore he had to turn things around. He succeeded wonderfully. Obama gave what in wide circles has been described as a brilliant and exceedingly original speech over the race issue in America.

It wasn’t a voluntary exercise at all. The highly explosive remarks by Obama’s former minister, Jeremiah Wright, needed to be convincingly rebutted. This Wright, who married Obama and his wife, cursed (white) America sometimes in his sermons and had labeled the September 11 attacks as having been deserved.

Surprisingly quiet

In the Times, Benedict Nightingale described the scene in Philadelphia very nicely: “Somehow Obama understands the art of conveying feeling, strong feeling, without seeming emotionally manipulative. He stands there in his sober suit. His voice is firm, his body-language surprisingly still. He makes few, if any, movements with his hands or arms. In terms of delivery, he’s as far from the Rev Jeremiah Wright, his old preacher. He manages to berate Wright without disowning him. And all this combines to reinforce his basic message: ‘I have a black face, but I am capable of representing the nation in all its diversity.’”

Whether this speech will save Obama’s candidacy remains in question. His opponents will endlessly bombard the television viewers with Wright’s words. Campaigns generally have a strong rancorous nature. The Bush camp tried to diminish the war record of John Kerry–the 2004 Democratic candidate, who performed meritoriously in Vietnam.

A clergyman in strongly faithful America is a person of authority. If Obama’s barber had said all this, it would not have been so bad at all. A candidate who in that very patriotically minded country is associated in any way with a man who has uttered a curse on his country, walks with a millstone around his neck.

It is thus not because of overwhelming concern that the New York Times or the Miami Herald dedicated lyrical commentaries (no matter how well earned) to the speech.

Reagan Democrats

No, it is about the so-called Reagan Democrats, simple, patriotic, white factory workers, and how much their already overwhelmingly associative voting conduct will be influenced by the remarks of Reverend Wright. And there is something else. Even before this issue exploded, Obama began to lose voters in this category to Hillary Clinton. That was clearly shown in Mississippi where Obama won thanks to the black vote.

The question remains whether America, at the edge of a crisis, in any case will elect a gifted orator without economic experience as its president.

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