U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for unity yesterday in a major speech on race and politics given at Philadelphia’s Constitution Center. The address was an effort to mitigate questions raised about recently publicized remarks made by Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Flashing on television news programs and the Internet this week were clips of Wright’s sermons featuring racially charged comments such as “the U.S. government created AIDS to kill black America.” Some of the most controversial of Wright’s remarks were in 2003: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’ …God damn America.”
Sen. Obama had distanced himself from the reverend earlier in his campaign, but found himself trying to put Wright’s views into context Tuesday, which he said had the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but denigrate the nation, and offend white people and black people alike.
Obama said that he could not disown the man who baptized his children and officiated at his wedding but noted that the Rev. Wright’s comments were divisive at a time “when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems—two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic healthcare crisis, and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.” Obama went on to say that he strongly disagreed with many of Wright’s political views, just as many of Americans have heard remarks from their pastors, priests, or rabbis with which they strongly disagreed.
It was just a week ago that the Democrat’s other presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Clinton, came under attack for remarks her former campaign fundraiser, Geraldine Ferraro, made that Obama would not be in the position he is in were he not a black man. In his speech, Obama said that “it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn,” and referred to implications that his candidacy is “somehow an exercise in affirmative action” and “based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.” The Illinois senator also called on the American public not to speculate on whether Clinton’s campaign was playing the race card or whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
Political analysts say Obama sees himself as uniquely able to deliver the call for the nation to move forward together given his biracial roots. On Tuesday, Obama pointed to the fact that he was the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, that he was raised with the help of white grandparents, and that he had relatives of every race and every hue.
He contended that he would not be running for president