David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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"Black and More Than Black": Obama's Daring and Unique Speech on Race

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 2:42 PM EDT

obama-philadelphia-speech250x200.jpg

With racial sentiments swirling in the 2008 campaign—notably, Geraldine Ferraro's claim that Barack Obama is not much more than an affirmative action case and the controversy over his former pastor's over-the-top remarks—Senator Obama on Tuesday morning responded to these recent fusses with a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining—not excusing—Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself.

Speaking in Philadelphia, Obama celebrated his own racial heritage but also demonstrated his ability to view the black community with a measure of objectivity and, when necessary, criticism—caring criticism. But this was no Sister Souljah moment. He did not sacrifice Wright for political ends. He hailed the good deeds of his former minister, noting that Wright's claim that America continues to be a racist society is rooted in Wright's generational experiences. And Obama identified the sources of racial resentment held by whites without being judgmental. With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.

Obama delivered his speech in a stiff manner. The melodious lilt and cascading tones that typically characterize his campaign addresses were not present. This was a speech in which the words—not the delivery—counted. He began with a predictable notion: slavery was the original sin of the glorious American project. Removing that stain has been the nation's burden ever since, and he tied his campaign to that long-running endeavor: "This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." And he proclaimed that due to his own personal story—"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas"—he both recognizes the need to heal this divide and possesses an "unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people." Unlike the black leaders of recent years, Obama identified with both the winners and losers of America: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." He is E Pluribus Unum.

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Under for Fire for Pastor's Remarks, Obama To Give Major Speech on Race

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 5:05 PM EDT

I was at a fancy Washington party of politicos this weekend and the No. 1 topic of conversation was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright--that is, what could Barack Obama do about Wright's assorted controversial statements. (Was Jesus really black?) With Fox News and others leading the charge--the cable news network had found videos of Wright's over-the-top sermons for sale at his church's gift shop--Obama quickly distanced himself from his onetime pastor's more provocative statements. ("No one ever said it was going to be easy to elect a black man president," an Obama supporter told me at this party.)

But Obama is not just hunkering down. Today his campaign announced he would deliver a "major address on race, politics, and how we bring our country together at this important moment in our history." Do you think this was scheduled prior to the Wright dustup? Not likely. Will it do anything to counter whatever political damage has been (or can be) done by Wright's remarks? Probably not. Still, it might be necessary. Then again, Obama has done rather well so far by not emphasizing matters of race. With the racial divide apparently growing starker in the recent Democratic primaries (with whites voting for the white candidate and blacks voting for the black candidate), one can only wonder if addressing race explicitly in this rather political manner is to Obama's advantage. But when a preacher speaks, sometimes you have no choice but to take action.

And the dog that didn't bark: There's been no Hillary Clinton campaign conference call in which Clinton aides decry Wright's remarks and push reporters to devote more attention to this matter. After the South Carolina primary and after Geraldine Ferraro, the Clintonites certainly realize they must treat gingerly any matter that involves race. And why yelp when there's already plenty of noise?

A Top Clinton Aide Fights a Blast from the Past

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

Jamie Rubin called me a few days ago, and he was upset. A top foreign policy aide in the Hillary Clinton campaign and a past assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Rubin believed he had been slimed by the Obama campaign, and he suggested I had been an unwitting party to the sliming.

Here's what happened. Days earlier, the Clinton campaign had held a conference call to blast away at remarks recently made by Samantha Power regarding Senator Barack Obama's Iraq policy. That morning, Power, a talented journalist, academic, and human rights advocate, had resigned as a foreign policy adviser to Obama after a newspaper reported she had called Hillary Clinton a "monster." And during this conference call, Clinton's senior foreign policy aides insisted that Power's comments about Obama and Iraq suggested that Obama was not truly committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. During that call, Rubin, as I wrote afterward, "derided Power as Obama's foreign policy 'Svengali or guru' and claimed her remarks about Iraq were proof that Obama cannot create an efficient and effective foreign policy team, calling the episode 'amateur hour' for the Obama campaign."

Rubin and the Clintonites' interpretation of Power's statements about Obama and Iraq was debatable, and their assault on Power struck some (read: me) as overkill and ugly.

Shortly after that conference call, the Obama campaign circulated a Washington Post clip to reporters that made it seem as if Rubin himself had his own "amateur hour" moment in 2004, when he was working for John Kerry's presidential campaign. The newspaper reported that Rubin had apologized for having misrepresented Kerry's position on Iraq by stating that Kerry would have probably launched a war against Saddam Hussein had Kerry been president in the preceding four years. (The George W. Bush campaign was enthusiastically using Rubin's statement to claim there was not much difference between the two candidates on Iraq.) The Post published a statement from Rubin: "To the extent that my own comments have contributed to misunderstanding on this issue...I never should have said the phrase 'in all probability' because that's not Kerry's position and he's never said it. That was my mistake."

A-ha! the Obama campaign was saying: Rubin's now slamming Power for an action similar to one he committed in 2004. In an article on the get-Power conference call, I reprinted a portion of this Post story.

After reading my piece, Rubin was livid at the Obama gang. Why? Because the Post story was false. Or sort of. At least enough so that it was, in Rubin's view, not fair for the Obama camp to be disseminating it.

Day Three: No Straight Talk from McCain on Parsley's Call for Destroying Islam

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 11:14 AM EDT

mccain-rod-parsley250x200.jpg No call back from the McCain camp yet.

For the third day in a row, I've called Jill Hazelbaker, the communications director for the McCain campaign, seeking a comment on televangelist Rod Parsley's call for destroying Islam. McCain, as I reported on Wednesday, has campaigned with this politically influential megachurch pastor, has accepted his endorsement, and has praised him as a "spiritual guide." And I've been told--once again--she is unavailable.

McCain and his campaign will not say anything about Parsley's advocacy of a Christian war against Islam that seeks to eradicate what Parsley dubs a "false religion."

Where's the straight talk now?

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