Saturday, March 29, 2008

Obama's Speech Engages Gingrich, A Sea Change?

Sometimes I encounter news that, to me, represents a sea change. And it gives me hope. And it's because of Obama. Newt Gingrich delivered a response to Obama's speech on race ot the American Enterprise Institute. Gingrich's words show that Obama's words matter and can alter the political landscape if not policy. It fascinates because it seems almost unbelievable. Remember Gingrich is the guy Bill Clinton always blames for the partisan bickering. So the fact that Gingrich is responding so differently to Obama seems to indicate that words do matter.

Now I saw this at Marc Ambinder's political blog over at The Atlantic. It's one of my daily reads because his sum up of the day -"The Daily Five" - often contains bits I'd not seen any where else. He's expressed envy about Politico's traffic and readership (yeah, I'm there at Ben Smith's blog every day, several times a day), but Marc's is well worth a stop too.

Back to Gingrich - here's a part of what he said:
Let me suggest to all of you that if you set aside the normal partisanship and cynicism of politics, that that’s a very powerful paragraph and a paragraph worthy of response at the same level, that in fact we should set aside the cynicism, and I am giving this speech today to take up this opportunity, both to reject cynicism, but also to suggest that we find real solutions. But to find real solutions, I would argue, we have to have real honesty and a serious dialogue in which unpleasant facts are put on the table and bold proposals are discussed.
Okay, just that first sentence alone shocks me.

Gingrich goes on to talk about the anger Obama spoke of, and how anger can be used for good as well. I've not yet read the whole transcript, but Gingrich talks of the problem both of bad culture and bad government.

Later he expresses skepticism that Obama would take on the National Education Association (NEA) to fix our schools, but I don't think that Gingrich's skepticism is well founded. Obama has a sister who is a teacher and has stated that teachers want to be held accountable. Here is Obama's stated policy on education. Here's a speech Obama gave to the NEA last July.

But Gingrich also responds to the points that Obama conceded to conservative thinkers - about welfare causing shame for black men. To me, such remarks were just as unique as Obama's statements about race, and proves the point that Obama is willing and able to speak the truth, even when unpleasant or unacceptable in some quarters. Obama has stated he will listen to a good idea from where ever it comes.

Here's Gingrich, again quoting Obama:
I agree with Senator Obama. He said:

A lack of economic opportunity among black men and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family contributed to the erosion of black families, a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.

You would be shocked to discover that he just paraphrased Charles Murray’s Losing Ground.
And then Gingrich elaborates on Faulkner:
We need bold, courageous solutions that dare to be politically incorrect.

Senator Obama quoted Faulkner, but he would have done well to have quoted more from Faulkner, especially Faulkner’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Faulkner at that point describes the importance of faith and the importance of optimism. He says:

The poet’s, the writer’s duty, is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure, by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to helping him endure and prevail.

So how do we endure and prevail?
Gingrich sets forth 7 areas to be addressed. What I've read so far of Gingrich's words strikes me as thoughtful. Apparently C-Span recorded it and maybe it'll be on at some point. You can watch it here.

If nothing else, such a full and measured response to Obama from someone like Gingrich does indicate that Gingrich recognized that Obama is a train that is going somewhere. Further, that Obama is someone whose ideas and words are worthy of engagement and dialogue. I think response to Obama's trans-partisanship is irresistible, even to a fierce partisan like Gingrich. Wow. My Lord, is there a dawn?

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