Do newly released clips of a 2007 speech by then-Sen. Barack Obama show him using racially divisive language? That’s what conservatives are charging Wednesday after the right-leaning Daily Caller posted online the tape of the address, which Mr. Obama made to black clergy at Hampton University in Virginia.
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Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation’s capital.
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In the speech Obama suggests that the Bush administration discriminated against hurricane Katrina victims by, among other things, not providing as generous terms for federal aid as Washington did to New York after 9/11 and to Florida after hurricane Andrew, because they were disproportionately minorities. That, he says, led to a “quiet riot” among US blacks in the storm’s aftermath. He gives a shout-out of welcome to his then-pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (The Rev. Mr. Wright’s racially tinged rhetoric caused Obama to later renounce their association.)
Overall, Obama delivered his words in a preacher-like style he has seldom used in other public forums. Conservatives say that is yet more evidence that in 2007 he was pandering to his audience.
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“He is whipping up fear and paranoia and hatred. This is the exact opposite of what a uniter does,” said Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson during a Fox News appearance on Tuesday.
The speech itself was widely covered in 2007, with CNN and the Associated Press filing reports, among other media outlets. Obama’s relationship with the controversial Wright was separately an item of intense media scrutiny during the last campaign. Mr. Carlson himself said he’d covered the address at the time.
But he and other conservatives said the media missed key parts of Obama’s Hampton University appearance, including the shout-out to Wright and other ad-libbed parts of the performance.
Still, Democrats denounced the tape as old news and as a transparent ploy to counter the “47 percent” tape of GOP nominee Mitt Romney saying at a fundraiser that almost half of Americans feel they are victims and are dependent on government largesse.
“I’m not even sure what it is, exactly, the right finds so noteworthy about the 2007 speech,” wrote liberal Steven Benan on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow blog. “Obama criticized the government’s response to Katrina? His speeches used a cadence Drudge found overtly racial? Obama mentioned his former pastor?”
In general, Democrats say the point of the whole thing is to reveal the not-astounding fact that Obama was, and remains, himself black.
Will a video from 2007 have much of an effect on the 2012 presidential election? Given that the first presidential debate is Wednesday night, news about this stuff will likely get buried soon. Plus, even some Republicans doubt that this is the sort of information that will change any voters’ minds.
After all, Obama has been president now for four years. It’s mostly his performance in the White House that voters will weigh in deciding whether to rehire him for another four years. At this date, most Americans have fixed ideas about his governing style and personality. Relitigating the Wright controversy isn’t going to change that.
“The Romney team is smart enough to know the video serves no useful purpose for its campaign. It is out to convince middle-class and blue-collar voters that Obama is a failure, not a radical. (They simply aren’t going to buy the latter.),” wrote conservative Jennifer Rubin Wednesday on her Right Turn blog at the Washington Post.
In that context, for the GOP the more politically useful event of Tuesday may be Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffe. The veep said, “the middle class has been buried the last four years” while decrying Mr. Romney’s proposed economic policies during a Virginia campaign appearance.
In regards to the 2007 video, the real target of conservative ire appears to be the mainstream media. The right sees the MSM as getting all worked up about alleged race-baiting on the part of Republicans, while ignoring Democratic appeals to race.