Obama talks tough to NAACP

Democrat praises civil rights victories, stresses responsibility

July 15, 2008|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

CINCINNATI - Sen. Barack Obama vowed yesterday to fight for civil rights if elected president, but he also told a gathering of the NAACP that he stands by his statements that personal responsibility is a key to solving problems in black communities.

"NAACP, I'm here to report: I'm not going to stop talking about it," Obama told a crowd of 3,000 members of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, gathered here for its annual convention.

"Yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Washington. And yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Wall Street. But we also have to demand more from ourselves," Obama said, to thunderous applause.

Obama acknowledged the recent criticism he has received from some that his campaign has focused too much on themes such as personal responsibility and too little on policy solutions to problems facing some black communities. And Obama vowed to push for increased funding for education, health care and fighting poverty.

But he pledged to continue such commentary on morality, saying that no amount of government help or activism alone can cure social ills.

"Because I believe that, in the end, it doesn't matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch - none of it will make any difference if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives," he said.

Obama's speech comes about a week after the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a civil rights stalwart and presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, criticized the focus of Obama's presidential campaign.

During a break from a Fox News program, Jackson, unaware that his microphone was on, whispered to another guest that Obama was "talking down to black people" and then used vulgar language to describe wanting to castrate him.

Jackson's remarks came after a guest asked him about Obama's recent speeches in black churches on the responsibility of black fathers and his proposals to expand President Bush's initiative to support faith-based charities.

Jackson apologized but reiterated that he hoped Obama would add context to his words, detailing the challenges confronting African-Americans, rather than discussing only black morality.

The Obama campaign accepted Jackson's apology but maintained that personal responsibility is core issue for the candidate.

Last night, Obama said taking ownership of problems in black communities is the fulfillment of decades of civil rights struggle.

"That's how we'll truly honor those who came before us," he said, "because I know that Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown vs. Board of Education so that some of us could stop doing our jobs as parents.

"That's why if we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities," he said. "That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework and setting a good example. It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth."

The crowd rose to its feet with shouts and applause.

"And teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one," he said. "That's the message we need to send."

Obama appeared careful not to chastise the audience and balanced his take on morality with words of praise for the NAACP and its nearly 100-year civil rights mission:

"It is always humbling to speak before the NAACP. It is a powerful reminder of the debt we all owe to those who marched for us and fought for us and stood up on our behalf; of the sacrifices that were made for us by those we never knew; and of the giants whose shoulders I stand on here today."

He thanked the organization for removing barriers, ultimately enabling him to become the first black to win a major-party nomination for president.

"It is because of them and all those whose names never made it into the history books - those men and women, young and old, black, brown and white, clear-eyed and straight-backed, who refused to settle for the world as it is; who had the courage to remake the world as it should be - that I stand before you tonight as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America."

He also took jabs at his Republican opponent, saying that Sen. John McCain's position on education "amounts to little more than the same tired rhetoric about vouchers." McCain will address the NAACP tomorrow.

Betty Andrews of Des Moines, Iowa, said Obama's remarks on responsibility were her favorite part of the speech.

"If we are talking about the American dream," she said, "well, the American dream has never been the American gift. It's something you have to work hard for."

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