March 08, 2015

Obama's speech at Selma

Read the full transcript of Obama's rousing, emotional speech in Selma

Obama’s speech in Selma was an answer to those who question his love for America

By Ezra KleinObama's critics question his love for the country he governs. "I do not believe—and I know this is a horrible thing to say—but I do not believe that the president loves America," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in February. They look at Obama's steady belief that America is not yet good enough, not yet pure enough, not yet perfect enough, and they see a skeptic, not a patriot.

In this speech, Obama's answer to this criticism was direct:Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We've endured war, and fashioned peace. We've seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they'd risk everything to realize its promise.

That's what it means to love America. That's what it means to believe in America. That's what it means when we say America is exceptional.
There is an implicit radicalism in what Obama is saying here. To believe America is good enough is to abandon the tradition of criticism and activism that has made America great.

Obama's answer to Giuliani is that Giuliani has mistaken uncritical adoration for the hard work required of true love. Patriotism is active, not passive. Those who love America prove it by working to perfect America. They continue marching.
People tweeted their thoughts on the historic event:Retweeted Bill Maher (@billmaher):
Watching the commemoration in Selma on the news -- so much has changed in 50 years! Like, the cops didn't have tanks back then.

Retweeted Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith):
"What could be more American than what happened in this place?" President Obama asks. True of both the courage and the violence.

Retweeted Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren):
It's up to us to make sure our government serves ALL of our people. We must restore the ‪#‎VotingRightsAct‬. ‪#‎Selma50‬
While Democrats were celebrating the march of liberty and justice, Republicans were, uh, doing something else:

The GOP’s Conspicuous Absence from Selma

By Charles C. W. CookeIf we are to regard the founding generation as being worthy of contemporary political lionization—and we most assuredly should—then we must consider those who marched at Selma to be so, too. If we are to put George Washington upon our plinths, and to eulogize him on our currency, we must agree to elevate Martin Luther King Jr. to the same dizzy heights. They are less famous, perhaps, but by virtue of their brave march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, John Lewis and Hosea Williams immortalized themselves into quintessential American heroes in the mold of Sam Adams and George Mason. To miss an opportunity to solemnize their daring is to blunder, disgracefully.

If all men really are created equal, the anniversary of Selma must be treated as a date every bit as important to American history as is the end of the Siege of Yorktown. As it would be unthinkable for the leadership of the Republican party to ignore July Fourth, it should be unthinkable for its luminaries not to celebrate the anniversary of the March to Montgomery either. Where have you gone, Speaker Boehner, a movement turns its lonely eyes to you.
The Native aspects

My thoughts on Obama's oration:

Good speech, though I might've cut it half.

We should elect this guy president. He has strong opinions on the things we need to change!

But why is he quoting from Scripture if he's a Muslim?!

Obama mentioned Natives twice:We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea—pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That's our spirit.

We're the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we're the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.
Okay, but the failure to say more was a missed opportunity considering the enormity of our crimes against Natives.

Canceling out these two mentions were these lines, which came just before the code-talker paragraph:We're the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We're the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers' rights.That sounds something like, "We're the brave entrepreneurs who crossed the Atlantic to find workers for the South's burgeoning cotton industry."

The phrase "opened the West" covers up a lot and obscures the truth. The only way the West was "closed" was "closed off to the white man's colonization by signed treaties." So we're celebrating how ranchers, miners, and railroads opened the West to disease, poverty, and land theft? Great.

Or as I tweeted:

Obama at ‪#‎Selma50‬: "We're the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West" breaking treaties and killing Indians, he forgot to say.

For more on the subject, see What the Crusades Controversy Is About and Ryan: Obama Threatens Western Valuess .

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