January 1, 2008
Obama's Oblique Race Card
On December 27, Barak Obama rolled out his new, revised stump speech to Iowa voters. The speech uses several literary techniques typical of Old Testament Hebrew poetic parallelism. For example:
[Synthetic parallelism where successive lines add to the first.]
I've met Maytag workers who labored all their lives only to see their jobs shipped overseas, who now compete with their teenagers for $7-an-hour jobs at Wal-Mart.I've spoken with teachers who are working at doughnut shops after school just to make ends meet, who are still digging into their own pockets for pay for school supplies.
[Antithetic parallelism finds the second part of the line contrasting with the first.]
I've spoken to veterans who talk with pride about what they've accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq, but who nevertheless think of those they've left behind and question the wisdom of our mission in Iraq...
[Climatic parallelism follows successive lines to a climax.]
Just two weeks ago, I heard a young woman in Cedar Rapids who told me she only gets three hours of sleep, because she works the night shift after a full day of college, and still can't afford health care for her sister with cerebral palsy. She spoke not with self-pity, but with determination, and wonders why the government isn't doing more to help her afford the education that will allow her to live out her dreams. [climax bolded]
Obama's new stump speech continues his oratorical practice, patterned after Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, wherein identical lead-in words, followed by slight shifts in meaning, are repeated at the beginning of a series of sentences, most notably at or near the close of a delivery. For example, at the close of his new speech, Obama said:
We've already beaten odds that the cynics said couldn't be beaten. When we started 10 months ago...[T]hey said we couldn't run a different kind of campaign.They said we couldn't compete without taking money from Washington lobbyists...They said we couldn't be successful if we didn't have the full support of the establishment...They said we wouldn't have a chance in this campaign unless...
Then, as a political altar call, Obama moves into his close with a five-fold repetition of "believe."
Because I know that when the American people believe in something, it happens.If you believe, then we can tell the lobbyists that their days...If you believe, then we can stop making promises to American workers...If you believe, we can offer a world-class education to every child...If you believe, we can save this planet and end our dependence...If you believe, we can end this war, close Guantanamo, restore our standing...
While Republican candidate Mike Huckabee has gained the most media attention for using religion to promote his candidacy, Barack Obama has made the most effective use of speech patterns from American church sermonizing. The leading public figure in that venue from the 20th Century was Dr. King. As Obama did in his Jefferson-Jackson Day speech, he invoked Dr. King's phrase, "the fierce urgency of now," as a key concept of his candidacy. He used it again on Meet The Press, December 30th. We will likely hear it again, and often.
MLK overlaid the language of Christian eschatological expectations onto the Civil Rights Movement, most notably Jesus' non-violence, and blended it with Old Testament exodus motifs, likening himself to Moses leading an oppressed people to a new land.
Obama is implicitly packaging himself as the leader of a people wandering in a political wilderness, escape from which requires the eschatological "fierce urgency of now" that demands radical change. Change that he alone claims to be able to bring. His language is a whole lot more linguistically crafted and artful than Hillary's policy-wonk approach (e.g., her Christmas TV ad) and Edward's divisive Two Americas theme.
Obama's oratory displays implied biblical imagery applied to a partisan political setting. If truth is the first casualty of war, then history is stressed by political speechmaking. In the context of making the case that his candidacy is about both change (Clinton's co-theme, along with experience) and hope, Obama offers five (numbering added) historical episodes to illustrate how hope and change are linked.
I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made.  In the face of tyranny, it's what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire.  In the face of slavery, it's what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist,  and what allowed a president to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free.  In the face of war and Depression, it's what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation.  In the face of oppression, it's what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause. That's the power of hope - to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.
The concepts of hope and change are, of course, inseparable. Only a masochist undertakes the role of change agent against determined opposition without the hope of, at least, partial success. But, was not the "guiding force" behind  the American Revolution, the drive for independence from a distant taxing and controlling government;  the abolitionist movement, the zeal for freedom;  Lincoln's wartime leadership, including the suspension of habeas corpus, his overriding objective to save the Union;  the self-sacrifice of the World War II generation, their all-consuming drive toward victory; and  the Civil Rights Movement, a non-violent appeal for justice? After all, hope alone is no virtue. Even despots are driven by hope that their tyranny will succeed.
Three of the five historical illustrations chosen by Obama's speech writers are race-related. That can be no accident. One illustration blatantly promotes revisionist history. Abraham Lincoln resisted Confederate succession with force of arms not to free the slaves, but to save the Union.
Putting aside whether it yields him the votes to win, is there anything worthy of criticism with regard to Senator Barak Obama's somewhat oblique playing of the race card?
As an American Thinker, that's for you to answer.
As an American Thinker, that's for you to answer.