Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech

In case you missed it, the text of Barack Obama's speech on race in the United States is here. Where it will enter history as one of the great American speeches remains to be seen, but rhetoric does matter, in both politics and governance. One of the most important powers of the presidency is that of the bully pulpit, which presidents use to direct and frame national discussion. Ronald Reagan didn't really govern as a pocketbook conservative, but has influenced our view of the role of government through his rhetoric.

For one thoughtful conservative reaction, check out Andrew Sullivan. I was also interested in what Tim Burke had to say:
"Obama’s central argument in this speech very much mirrors the kind of work I’ve tried to do in my own blogging, which is to commit to seeing things as other people see them before I set out to criticize them, as much as I’m able to do. It doesn’t do any good to get on your high horse and complain about all the people in the world that you think are vile and horrible and stupid if they represent some kind of situated, lived world. You have to make the commitment to trying to understand people in their own terms, to find out why certain ways of thinking and speaking and acting flourish in their world. Then you’re entitled to criticize, if you want, but now your criticism is going to be entangled in that understanding of a lived world, and limited by it.'

This, frankly, is the core of multicultural education, which is intimately involved in my own career. It applies just as much to issues within the United States. I'm reminded of the opposition on Babylon 5 between the Shadows' "What do you want?" and the implicitly superior Vorlons' "Who are you?" as ways of understanding, followed by the show's own, "Where are you going?"



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