Obama video reveals everything ... that we already knew

The right-wing outrage machine began touting a blockbuster, “never-before-seen” video of Barack Obama during the day Tuesday, building to a crescendo and then the delivery of 5-year-old footage that revealed the following blockbusters: Then-senator from Illinois could lay on the Southern, Baptist preacher patois and lay it on thick; he felt New Orleans got screwed in the response to Hurricane Katrina and, finally, he favored special programs to help the urban poor, some of whom he suggested might be, yes, African American.

Y’all oughta give the video a listen just to enjoy Obama’s over-the-top Sunday-goin’-ta-meetin’ stylings. He made the speech in June 2007 before a group of black ministers and others at Hampton University in Virginia. Other than the semantic extremes the candidate invoked to related to his audience, the other “revelations” will be mightily disappointing.

The video reveals the senator from Illinois speaking warmly about his then-pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whom Obama would dump almost a year later, when the fiery minister’s “God damn America” pronouncement came to light. But we already knew that Obama embraced, then cast aside, the firebrand minister.

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The video also reveals Obama postulating on the roots of urban despair and anger, as exposed by the 1992 Los Angeles riots and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and also touting a series of programs to alleviate poverty. But we already knew that Obama talked about those things.

Conservatives have been desperately casting about for a “gotcha” video to attack Obama since last month. That’s when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney created a furor with his misguided remarks about the “47%.” In a video first released by liberal Mother Jones magazine, Romney told a group of rich donors how 47% of Americans consider themselves “victims” and enjoy being dependent. He said he could not worry about those people whom he described as “unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.” Polls have revealed that many Americans felt outraged by those comments.

The Republicans’ first swing at a rebuttal came last month, when they released a 14-year-old audio clip in which Obama told a college audience that he favored “redistribution.” Sure confirmation of the president’s socialist sensibilities, partisans declared. The attack floundered, though, as the full recording showed Obama had actually been speaking more expansively about making government efficient and endorsing “competition” in the “marketplace.”

The latest attempt was heralded Tuesday with a blaring headline on the Drudge Report, the conservative-oriented news aggregator. The site teased the video, promising “THE ACCENT... THE ANGER... THE ACCUSATIONS... THE SERMON...”

Fox News’ Sean Hannity then introduced the video on his evening program with Daily Caller boss Tucker Carlson, who “broke” the big story. The two expressed shock and dread at Obama’s performance. “This is not a dog whistle, this is a dog siren, appeals to racial solidarity,” said Carlson. “This,” he added, “is what a demagogue does and it’s wrong.”

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A close listen to the nearly-40-minute video won’t reveal anything about “white majority profits"--so it’s unclear where that sentiment comes from, other than the author’s desire to stir resentment among white voters.

What the video does show is Obama at one point questioning why relief for Hurricane Katrina was conditioned on local matching payments under something called the Stafford Act, when New York and Florida made no such payments after the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Andrew, respectively. This is also not new, since Obama already had raised the issue of matching payments at a (not exactly top-secret) congressional hearing earlier in 2007.

Some critics have theorized that New Orleans got less federal support because of its largely African American population. But the full tape shows Obama addressed that point directly, saying people had asked him “was race the reason” for the inadequate response. “I said ‘No, this administration was colorblind in its incompetence.’”


The rest of the Obama speech is the kind of disquisition on urban poverty which Obama and other Democrats have delivered for years. The candidate told the largely African American audience that the 1992 L.A. riots didn’t erupt overnight but built from a “quiet riot” over many years.

“If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton you would have found some of the same young men and women,” said Obama, “without hope, without miracles, without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge, the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures, the edge of communities.”

Although those releasing the old video suggested it revealed a previously shrouded, fringe figure, Obama made it clear that no level of poverty should explain away violence.

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“Much of what we saw on our television screens 15 years ago was Los Angeles expressing a lingering, ongoing, pervasive legacy -- a tragic legacy out of the tragic history of this country, a history this country has never fully come to terms with,” the candidate said. “This is not to excuse the violence of bashing in a man’s head or destroying someone’s store and their life’s work. That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating. But it does describe the reality of many communities around this country.”

Hannity seemed particularly taken with the fact that Obama spoke warmly about the Rev. Wright. He offered multiple viewings of the portion of the video in which the politician introduces Wright as “a friend, and a great leader, not just in Chicago, but all across the country.”

That would be a breathtaking revelation, if the Obama-Wright relationship hadn’t been minutely dissected in 2007 and 2008. The presidential candidate subsequently told Americans he had no idea his minister had spoken such hateful words. Critics said he must have known his pastor’s heart, as a member of Wright’s congregation for 20 years. Defenders said Obama didn’t know or it didn’t matter.

With the release of the video this week, some of Obama’s familiar enemies want to relitigate his old relationships. They want to reopen the question of whether the president is someone Americans really don’t know. Maybe voters can’t wait for a second trial on the president’s sentiments on race. But it’s more likely the only ones who will be listening will be the ones who already condemned him the first time around.


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