Words matter

21 March 2008

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): There is a lot of discussion about Obama's magnificent speech on race and America. In openDemocracy Kanishk Tharoor has a fine assessment and links through to it HERE. Elsewhere in UK blogland from NHS Doctor to Sunny Hundal to Gracchi, to an understated gloat that the speech 'won't work' on harry's place, there is genuine interest on the left. The British right seems less plussed despite efforts to project Cameron as the UK's Obama when his rhetoric seemed like a game, a sort of knights move that traditional Tories could play. Indeed they seem at a loss for words. Especially interesting as Obama explicitly highlights the point that his faith embraces a politically conservative self-help  tradition. There are two things to note, one tactical in US terms and a larger one that relates to the poverty of politics in this country.

We can say for sure that the test the US site Politico set before the speech has been passed: "A successful address would go a long way toward answering Hillary Rodham Clinton’s complaint that Obama has never shown he can handle the rough-and-tumble nature of modern political combat". He was on the ropes and fought back and did so his way.

But anyone who watches the speech - and if you don't you are not interested in politics that matters - will see that here is someone addressing a major issue with words that are intended to effect change. Hilary once tried to say that Obama was just good at speeches not deeds and lost that one. Any society that wishes to look forward has to talk about this. Only a society that is traumatised by the need to remain the same celebrates silence as wisdom and argument as "chatter".

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