campaign desk

Seize the Moment

Obama opened the door for a genuine conversation on race
March 18, 2008

After Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race, there will be an enormous temptation by the campaign press to jam the moment into the usual horserace narrative. Did Obama clear the expectations bar? Did he reassure white voters about his church community? Did he neutralize the Ferraro flap? Can his words deracialize the upcoming Pennsylvania primary?

So, okay, let’s have the pundits chew that all over, and check off those boxes. Quickly.

But then we must seize this rare opportunity and go deeper.

Obama spoke with unusual directness about the economic legacy of racism, about today’s full texture of ethnic identity and resentment, about the need for genuine discussion on race, and about where to go from here.

Let’s meet him where’s he’s led us. There’s no reason Clinton and McCain can’t join in, but again, this needn’t—and in some ways shouldn’t—be a campaign-focused conversation. It’s a long overdue national conversation.

CJR will have more to say on the speech. And we’ll be watching to see if the press can live up to the task at hand, with seriousness and sincerity. Because it’s just too important not to try.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.