I'm wondering whether Obama's speech on Tuesday in Philadelphia, in which he took on the challenging task of talking about race, the "elephant in the room" for decades in this country, will stir conversation. Yes, people in the blogosphere have opined on it, but mainstream media has not. Perhaps it is because it is too complex an issue, and we know that big media does best with simple soundbites. This is no simple sound bite.
Obama gave no easy solution. But he did invite us to examine our own hearts and to engage in conversation with others in our lives, to begin to loosen our tongues that have been so long silent on the subject, at least publicly.
That's what true public discourse should be: public, and interactive, so that everyone has a change to speak his/her mind. Not in an effort to reach a compromise, but in an effort to reach understand, from which new ways to resolve our problems can spring.
We know that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was largely forgotten after the ceremony at which he spoke those fateful words that schoolchildren have ever after memorized. What was it that made people look back to those words and discover the wisdom there? Can we do the same, now that Barack Obama has invited us to accept the challenge to start a nationwide conversation on a topic that is crucial to our ability to truly move this country forward in a way that all people can feel truly engaged in the effort?
JFK's famous speech, in which he brought the issue of his Catholicism front and center, was a turning point in his election. People had been talking among themselves about their fears and misgivings of a President who, they thought, would be answering to an "infalible" Pope who lived outside the United States. Kennedy started the necessary conversation that brought the subject into the open.
Race is a much more deeply divisive issue, of course. All the more reason to talk about it. How about reading the text of his speech, taking a section you feel especially impassioned about (whether you agree or disagree) and sit down with others, perhaps around the dinner table, to see what new possibilities lie within those words, what opportunities for advancement?