Wednesday, March 19, 2008

That man sure can talk

Barak Obama is, to my mind, the most powerful orator of any major American politician today.

His speech yesterday was masterful. The topic--race relations in America--was controversial enough. Add to that the catalyst for the speech--the revelations of some fairly horrific sermons from the preacher Obama has chosen for most of his adult life--and you've got a tough basis for a campaign topic.

And yet by the end of the speech I was thinking, Yeah, I like what this guy could do for race relations in this country. He's good. An effective talk: putting black anger in the context of our nation's history; looking at prejudice, black and white; and framing all of this in the continuation of the Founding Fathers' efforts to form a more perfect union. He was on the defensive and turned it around.

But now for the quibbles.

First, Obama's repeated invocation of Geraldine Ferraro reeked of the same politics he claims to be avoiding.

Second, and more important, the asides were problematic. When straying from the issues of race, Obama managed to remind me that his policy instincts are by and large antithetical to mine. What purpose did those asides (condemning war; assailing the greed of corporate culture; sneering at profits; or implying that it is up to the government to invest more in healthcare, education and the like) play other than to reinforce that--inspirational rhetoric aside--his politics are no different from a long line of left liberal political candidates? Ah, well.

Update: Virginia Postrel's take on the Obama speech reflects my views. (And as of this week, Postrel is a TV star for her donation of a kidney to an acquaintance.)

Charles Murray, too, liked the speech. As did Peggy Noonan, who writes in "A Thinking Man's Speech,"

I thought Barack Obama's speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that's what he wanted, and this is rare.

More from Murray here. Like me, he cannot vote for Obama; like me, he was impressed by this speech.