Richard John Neuhaus’ Review of Obama’s Speech

I think I have just read the best review yet of Senator Obama’s speech on race. It’s by Richard John Neuhaus and appears in First Things. He writes:

“By reviving historic stereotypes, Senator Obama’s speech and the uses to which it is being put has dealt a severe blow to race relations in America. It is giving a big boost to what someone has rightly called the soft bigotry of low expectations. . . I don’t know what all this means for the presidential election. . . Political punditry is not my forte, but, as I watch this race develop, I can’t help thinking about George McGovern in 1972.”

The rest of this one is a must-read. Here it is:

“The Strange Ways of Black Folk” – by Richard John Neuhaus (First Things)

(HT: Justin Taylor)


  • Brett

    Hint, if anything is negative about Obama, Denny will be all over it and say it’s the best thing he’s heard. You have an agenda my friend.

  • Bryan L

    Denny, I do wonder though why you seem so anti-Obama? Do you really dislike him that much? What will you do if he becomes president? Will you be like us Bush bashers?
    : )

  • Michael Metts

    I think Denny is only standing up for what he believes in. I don’t see an agenda here against Obama.

    I for one really appreciate the weblog and its informativeness. I’ve only recently been reading after hearing about the blog at Criswell College.

    I’ve also heard Denny Burk host Jerry Johnson Live before and was really impressed.

    Keep up the great work Mr. Burk!

  • Bryan L

    It’s not. But let’s be honest, Denny posts against Obama all the time. So it is reasonable to ask why he “seems” so anti-Obama (which is what i said).

    If on my blog I posted against Piper all the time or Brian McLaren what would you conclude? You would say I seem anti-Piper? Heck Barry quoted Piper the other day but did not cite him as the source because he concluded based on what people have said in the past that there were “so many Piper-haters here”. How many here have side they hate Piper? Enough to not site him as a source? Yet he assumed that to speak against him a lot means you hate him and are thus anti-Piper.

    There’s no difference here.

    Maybe Denny’s not. Maybe he really likes Obama and thinks he’s great. But if so he has a funny way of showing it.

    Either way I don’t think it is invalid to question Denny as to why he seems a particular way. Maybe he can shed some light on it. Maybe he is anti-Obama. Maybe not.


  • Mark Gibson


    I think that Denny is posting articles about Obama because he is the Democrat frontrunner. If Hillary Clinton were the frontrunner, then I’m sure he would blog on his disagreements with her. I would say that his blogs are anti-liberal, not anti-Obama. I have yet to see a personal attack on Obama.

  • Denny Burk

    I have made no secret of the fact that I oppose Obama’s candidacy for president. His pro-choice position makes him unqualified in my view. Moreover, given the balance on the Supreme Court right now, the next President will have a huge impact on whether or not Roe v. Wade is overturned. If we can get one more justice like Roberts and Scalia, then the balance will tip in favor of overturning Roe. If Obama is elected, he will set us back for decades.

  • Paul


    let’s use the proper language here…

    Being pro-choice does not make one UNQUALIFIED to be the commander in chief, our chief diplomat or to sign or veto bills into law. You are more than smart enough to know the difference between a candidate not sharing your views and a candidate not having the ability to be president.

    And insofar as gay marriage goes, once you can give a PURELY secular argument for banning gay marriage (you can do that with abortion, by the way), then and only then should you be saying that his views on it should change. Especially since your job is to govern (as a senator does) your constituents, and Illinois has a sizable gay population.

  • rach

    it is sad to me that so many people who claim to be Christians think that holding our leaders to the moral standard set by our Lord and Savior is a narrow way to choose who to vote for. i am convinced the opposite is the way to go-demand high morals in government leaders and trust that God will do the rest. i know i am no one when it comes to military, foreign policy or many other important jobs the president has, but i am sure that i want my vote to go to someone who values each life God has created.

  • Mason Beecroft

    Why are people surprised that Denny, who is clearly anti-Obama, would post an essay that is anti-Obama? He does not “seem” to be anti-Obama. He IS anti-Obama. Why is this shocking?

    At the end of the day, however, the issue is not Denny, but the essay by Neuhaus. How do you respond to it?

  • Paul

    The essay by Neuhaus was chock full of the same arguments made by white folks when talking about race “intelligently”. Excuse my indifference, but these arguments are older than dirt. Black folk that have “made it” aren’t black enough for the black community. Black folk that air their grievances are committing any number of sins. Obama should have gone to a church that Neuhaus — not Obama — was more comfortable with. etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

    Whites and Blacks DO have different subcultures here in America. Blacks understand white culture a lot better than whites understand blacks, if for no other reason than they can’t escape it, yet most white folk try to escape black culture on a daily basis.

    Until we are able to have a real discussion about race — and more importantly, class, with all sides being able to speak equally, these same problems will continue to pop up all the time.

    All an article like this does is throw fuel on the fire.

  • Mark Gibson


    I don’t think that articles like this throw fuel on the fire. The civil rights groups looking for preferential treatment are the problem. Obama agrees with these groups. If Obama ends his race-baiting, then we can see the end to these types of articles.

    Just curious, what would a “real” discussion about race look like?

  • Paul


    First off, it’ll help to see where I’m coming from here. I’m coming from an urban big city background where race problems aren’t in history books, they’re alive and well right down the street.

    Secondly, understand that I am in complete agreement that the welfare system in this country needs a complete overhaul and that it needs to focus on the “hand up” (which it rarely offers) and not the “hand out” (which it almost always does, and always exascerbates[sp?] the problem).

    That said, preferential treatment programs are not always the problem. I’d much rather that the poor kid from the ghetto who wants to get out has as many, if not more, chances to get out of their situation and make life better for themselves (i.e. racial quotas at public colleges). Unfortunately, those kids are the exception, rather than the rule, but I outright fear the rationale of the people that would take away those exceptions in the name of only God knows what.

    Insofar as Obama’s “race-baiting,” I think it’s far too easy to say that without being in his shoes. You can’t look at black America from a white American standpoint and understand what they go through as a minority and as a still oppressed class of people. As someone who is, as I jokingly refer to myself, off-white, I don’t even try to pretend that I know. But I know that it’s a very different set of problems than I have, and I try to respect that.

    A real discussion about race, like I said, would honestly be a discussion that was 80% about class and 20% about race. Because, face it, the blacks that have assimilated into the middle and upper classes aren’t dealing with many of the “race” problems that we often attribute to race, when really, we need to attribute them to class.

    Does that make sense?

  • Darius

    Paul, you probably would enjoy Dalrymple’s books, especially Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass. It’s from a British point of view, but it’s about class, not race, since in Britain the underclass is white, not black.

  • Mark Gibson


    I live in Dallas and it is actually a more racially diverse city than Chicago. Whites only make-up about a third of the city’s population. So I know where you are coming from. However, I don’t see the same bad race relations as you. I guess everyone here is more focused on the illegal alien problem.

    As for race quotas, why should a person get a job or gain admittance into a college based on their skin color? Also, if it is more about class rather than race, then will poor white rural kids have equal access to colleges?

    I really don’t think that Obama has any credibility when it comes to talking about black people being oppressed. His personal story is contradictory to that of an oppressed black man. This is why I agree with Nehaus’ criticism of Obama trying to gain “street cred”.

    The problem isn’t white people oppressing black people, but the complete breakdown of the black family. How many black people do you know that grew up without a father? Since I’m just about as bad as Bush with the English language, I’ll just link to what Alan Keyes has to say about welfare and family disintegration. It is basically the same rhetoric that he uses when addressing the black family issue. http://www.alankeyes.com/issues_list.php#welfare

  • Paul


    we’re actually on ground where we agree more than you think.

    On race quotas pt. 1: people shouldn’t get preferential treatment based on the color of their skin. However, if their social strata is basically the fault of hundreds of years of colonial, governmental societal burdens, then SOMETHING must be done to reverse the tide. It’s not like the second that Jim Crow was abolished that racism too was abolished. It’s not like things were suddenly equal for everyone involved. This is where conservative politics are only the best politics if everyone on the planet is the world’s nicest person. But in the case of America, that’s not the case.

    Frankly, I don’t want the guy who’s smart enough to get into Harvard Business School stuck in the ghetto, because those are the guys that turn into the Jeff Forts and Frank Lucases of the world. I’d have much rather they had the chances to make something of themselves in the straight world than for them to think that their only opportunity to get ahead was to go the routes that they went.

    quotas pt. 2: “Also, if it is more about class rather than race, then will poor white rural kids have equal access to colleges?”

    If I had my way, absolutely, yes. Personally, I agree with the University of Chicago’s idea: if you’ve got the smarts and the grades, you can come whether you can afford it or not. That should be the model of every college in the country.

    Was Obama trying to gain street cred? Maybe. But I’m not in his head (and you aren’t either) to know for sure. Certainly, as an activist on the south side, he surely saw what oppressed black men looked like and had to deal with every day. If he’s as close as they’re going to get to a rational voice on the national stage, then absolutely, he should say something. I don’t think it makes him any sort of a poseur to make those grievances heard.

    As for your last paragraph, in order to keep civility around here, I won’t even address it. But suffice it to say, I think your thinking on this one is way off base and misses some of the core problems that need to be dealt with.

  • Darius

    “The problem isn’t white people oppressing black people…”

    Correct, the problem is black people oppressing themselves, and the white liberal intelligentsia giving approval and support. Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech cuts to the very heart of this issue.

  • Brent

    A couple of MIT profs did a study in 2003 titled “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” Those resumes with ethnic or “black-sounding” names received fewer call-backs than those with “white-sounding” names. A “white”-named person would have to send out 10 resumes to get one callback, whereas those with ethnic names would have to send out 15 to get the same one callback. Those ethnic names with much higher credentials received even less attention.

    This is, what I believe, affirmative action is trying to correct, rather than acting as reverse discrimination. I feel that it is an overly simplistic solution to a more complex problem, but I don’t disagree with the intent.

    P.S. You can’t have a discussion about class and race without gender. Don’t even try. =)

  • Darius

    Why is it the government’s duty to tell a business who to hire, or a school who to accept? Soft discrimination like that listed above… why does anyone have to get involved in that? Furthermore, if one did a study of people who apply to, say, work at the NAACP or attend Grambling State University, wouldn’t you expect the opposite: Jamel or Darius (I am the only white Darius I’ve ever known) would understandably get a call-back sooner than Luke or Dustin. NATURAL, unforced segregation isn’t wrong; it’s pretty natural to tend toward your own kind (whether it be of the familial, racial, religious, or political kind). FORCED segregation or even forced desegregation isn’t right or useful. And that’s what affirmative action is basically doing.

    Also, consider what perception it causes of other LEGITIMATE black students or workers. They are looked down upon as having cheated their way in (even if they are fully qualified). So they get lumped in with the people who wouldn’t normally make the cut and are now struggling to survive at their work or school

  • Paul


    according to your thinking, then, while institutionalized Jim Crow laws would be bad, societal Jim Crow thinking is natural?

    Just a question to see where you’re coming from…

  • Brent

    I think part of what is going on is that people are no longer holding to your distinctions of “hard” and “soft” discrimination. Both are equally detrimental and harmful to people’s “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness,” so, the logic goes, third-party intervention is necessary.

  • Paul


    at its most cynical, yes.

    However, to say that vote buying is what Lyndon Johnson had in mind when such actions started being taken is preposterous.

  • Brent

    No doubt. But that’s true of politicians’ stances on all issues … not just the so-called “liberal” ones.

  • Darius

    Paul, exactly. If blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Jews, Amish, or Mormons CHOOSE to live with their own kind, the government should not involve itself in their FREEDOM. The law should be color-blind and neutral in regards to race and never used merely to satisfy some white liberal multi-culti urge.

    Regarding affirmative action… One does NOT fix discrimination with discrimination. This is nonsensical.

  • Paul


    how then does a government that sanctioned slavery for 80 some odd years, and then sanctioned institutionalized racism (both in the North and South, don’t kid yourselves, friends) for another hundred years?

    We’re just supposed to shrug our shoulders and say, “whoops, sorry about that!”

    I think not.

  • Paul

    And ditto what Brent said. Democratic pandering to the lower classes with welfare and great society style programs is no different than Republicans pandering to evangelicals by trying to quash gay rights.

  • Paul

    amendment to #30…

    “how then does a government that sanctioned slavery for 80 some odd years, and then sanctioned institutionalized racism (both in the North and South, don’t kid yourselves, friends) for another hundred years fix the problem?”

  • Darius

    Paul, not sure what your question is in #30/32. Racism is no longer institutionalized in our government, which means it is FINALLY blind to race.

    Are you getting at using affirmative action as retribution/compensation for those 180 years of state-sanctioned inequality? I don’t see how two wrongs make a right. Modern day black Americans are not worse off because slavery happened, they are better off (considering that they would most likely still be in Africa if their ancestors hadn’t become slaves). If the slaves were still alive, apologize and compensate them. But 150 years later is a bit late.

  • Mark Gibson


    Why should white people from my generation be penalized for the sins of past generations? Affirmative action only pits white and black people against each other. It does nothing to help race relations.

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