Senior Political Analyst
I am writing this note from Europe so I have not had a chance to hear any of Barack Obama's speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on CNN or on the radio, but I have had a chance to read the text on the Internet. Let me just say:
Obama's speech on Sunday was the finest oratory of this campaign and indeed of almost any campaign I can remember in some 40 years. WATCH an extended excerpt
It was wordy in parts -- especially in the middle -- and it may make no difference in this campaign. The cynics are right on one point: he has to win South Carolina or the speech will probably (sadly) be lost in the midst.
Mario Cuomo and Jesse Jackson both delivered excellent, moving speeches at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 and the Democrats went on to lose in a landslide. Do you remember what either said?
Even so, we should give credit to Obama for lifting the discourse in this campaign to a higher, moral level. Inevitably, candidates and the press become ensnarled in horserace, stylistic concerns, and policy speak. Rarely do they feel they can or should rise slightly above the din. Obama soared.
He reminded us not only of the moral deficits of our times but also, echoing Martin Luther King Jr., made it clear how much our capacity to close those gaps depends upon us coming together as a people. And he helped us to see that our challenges have a significant moral component.
Franklin Roosevelt in one of his most memorable speeches early in his days a the White House proclaimed that the presidency is foremost about moral leadership -- a leadership that clarifies and helps us to make great choices.
I am not saying that this single speech makes Obama the right choice for Democrats. Far from it. Hillary Clinton is fundamentally a person who has cared deeply about the moral life of the country for a long, long while. (So have Republicans like John McCain.) And there are legitimate questions about Obama's experience.
What I am saying is that in the midst of a campaign when we talk more about who will win South Carolina and Florida than we do about the soul of the country, this speech is a welcome event that reminds us of the high stakes we face as a people.