PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday March 19th, 2008, 11:16am

Obama's Populist Call

In the frenzy over Barack Obama's race speech yesterday (Did he disavow Rev. Wright? Was it too long? How will white independents react?) pundits and reporters alike generally ignored what I found to be the sharpest and most encouraging section of his address:

Just ...

In the frenzy over Barack Obama's race speech yesterday (Did he disavow Rev. Wright? Was it too long? How will white independents react?) pundits and reporters alike generally ignored what I found to be the sharpest and most encouraging section of his address:

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is Obama at his best: respecting and then discrediting the views and values of his political opponents. By acknowledging that working class white resentment is often grounded in real economic anxiety, he creates leverage for his demand that white Americans respect black suffering too, itself grounded in centuries of racial and economic discrimination.

We don't need more of the nativist race-baiting spewing from the likes of Lou Dobbs or culture war battles over affirmative action and welfare. Instead, as Nathan Newman writes at TPM Cafe, Obama suggests that we focus on structural impediments inhibiting broad scale economic change:

[He] asked that everyone overcome that anger and refuse the red herrings of the race card to concentrate on those who financially benefit every election from the "political stalemate" that has blocked investments in jobs, health care for all, and the revitalization of our communities.

Breaking this stalemate is the only path to the true multi-racial, economic justice championed by Martin Luther King, Jr., but largely ignored since his assassination. And if this speech is any indication, progressives nervous about Obama's economic instincts can take a deep breath.

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