Come on, this is a great speech. I have no idea whether it’s a great speech tactically: clearly some people will hear or think what they want to hear. But this is one of the few speeches by an American politician in my lifetime that has both elegance and intellectual substance to it.
Additional comments. Look, I’m sure it’s not hard for any of you who read this site to see why I like Obama as much as I do. This speech really captures it. It’s got nothing to do with his race, which is why I found Ferraro’s comments so irritating. 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. (I guess you can go ahead and blast someone that you think is uniquely horrible and stupid in their own special individual manner, but that seems a lot of energy for someone who doesn’t matter much in political or intellectual terms.) 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.
I know some of you think that this vision is a kind of weakness in the face of malevolence. I just don’t see any choice. I’m not saying that both political and intellectual life need this sort of approach because I’m a goody two-shoes. I think this is a kind of pragmatism. This is what politics is, what politics has to be. This is what transformation needs. Otherwise, the best you can hope for are momentary, transient achievements that are destined to be reversed almost as soon as they are accomplished. There isn’t enough power in the greatest political mobilization imaginable to abolish significant groups of people who experience history and society differently than you and people like you experience it.