To many in the media, Barack Obama's race speech yesterday morning was strangely reminiscent of a moment involving Mitt Romney earlier on in the campaign season, when Romney tried to address concerns about his Mormon faith. But is that comparison actually warranted? Let's review.
Obama spoke from Philadelphia, PA, which fit in with his talk of the Philadelphia Convention and our Constitution, and came about a month before that state's delegate-heavy primary. Romney spoke from former President George H. W. Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University, months before that large state's important primary. Perhaps he also chose that state since John F. Kennedy's now famous speech on his Catholic faith was given there, although that is only speculation.
Both men spoke from a presidential-looking podium (Romney, speaking from a presidential library, even had a version of the presidential seal on his) flanked by at least four U.S. flags.
Obama's speech lasted just under 40 minutes, ensuring plenty of free air time but also guaranteeing that many would only hear snippets throughout the day, and not the entire thing. Romney's was only about 20 minutes long.
But what of substance?
Both were eloquent and well-written. Both used the Constitution to defend their positions, however Obama also took issue with that document many Americans consider sacred. He pointed out what he called the stain of slavery inherent in the text, before praising "the ideal of equal citizenship under the law" that would later flourish. Romney seemed to wrap the document around himself as a shield, defending his right to run by referencing the Constitutional protection against "religious test[s]," and gave overall a much less controversial speech.
Obama, at one point, summed up a major theme running through his talk by saying: "I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."
Obama addressed some of the root causes of anger and racial tension that, he said, still exist in America today. However, he took the unusual step of trying to bridge the gap between the two sides of this heated topic, aided in understanding, perhaps, by his dual heritage. He talked about the anger of African Americans, whose ancestors survived terrible oppression, but also the resentment by white Americans today of policies such as "welfare and affirmative action" brought about by atrocities they did not themselves commit.
Just as Obama addressed the original failure of our Founders to live up to their own ideals by permitting slavery, Romney addressed the failure of "our nation's forbearers." He said: "They came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others."
Lastly, what brought about these addresses?
Romney had discussed giving a religion speech, but reportedly his staff was against it, worried it would only serve to draw attention to what many perceived as a weakness. It was only when his poll numbers began to decline that he finally spoke out.
Obama, like the other Democratic candidates, had often said that this race wasn't about race. But increasingly under fire for controversial comments made by his religious mentor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama felt the need to address this issue head-on, first in a Huffington Post article, and then in the speech in question, where he took the opportunity to directly address a much broader and more volatile issue.
Although it is still early to tell, the response to Obama's speech seems to be much more vocal and positive.
In sum, there are clearly a number of similarities between the two statements. However, while Romney's was followed by an electoral loss, only time will tell what impact Obama's address will have on his campaign for President.