The topic of conversation at most taverns usually centers around something lighthearted, such as sports or movie stars behaving badly. But recently, thanks to perhaps the most followed presidential election in a generation, politics has made its way back in to the public house. Still, the mainstream media most often discusses the horse race aspect, the personalities, or the “he said, she said” stuff. Rarely do we get a national election that brings important issues to the forefront.
For most of this presidential primary season, that is exactly the way it has been. Despite a war, serious economic issues and ballooning fuel and food costs, we still spend our time hearing about what amounts to nothing more than thinly veiled name calling. But for better or for worse, Senator Barack Obama created a seismic shift in the political landscape this week by vaulting perhaps the most difficult subject of all, race relations, on to the dinner tables and up to the bar rails of America.
What the ramifications of the speech are is a debate that is important to have, even if a conclusion is hard to come by. Obama was forced into the subject by the controversial comments of his long time friend and pastor when he was clearly hoping to avoid it. But it is hard not to admire the manner with which the senator took on the subject. No doubt some advisors would have cautioned him to step lightly and do the politically easy thing by divorcing himself of the pastor, the church and everything that comes with it. He could have pulled a Captain Renault and pretended to be “shocked” that such words are ever uttered, and many politicians would have done just that.
Instead Barack Obama took this very difficult subject head on in a manner that was enlightening and sometimes difficult to hear. He reminded us that racism is still a fundamental issue for our country and talking about it is not much easier now then it was fifty years ago. This speech could just as easily be the moment that defines a president or signals a candidate’s downfall. Either way, few can argue with the historic significance of Obama’s words. He finally put in motion an adult conversation on a sore subject that has been long overdue.