The conventional wisdom falls in line again. On Friday, one commentator after another in the mainstream media, from Brian Williams to Mark Shields, repeated the line: Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama helped a bit after a very bad week for Obama. Say what? A week in which the candidate delivered what was probably one of the 10 greatest speeches in American history -- a speech in which he addressed the wrenching issue that has most stained our nation's history and did so in a moving and deeply intelligent way and one that brought tears to the eyes of people whose tear ducts had previously seemed to be useless, vestigial organs -- a speech that called Americans to the highest ideals and values that the meaning of this nation holds -- was a very bad week for him?
I watched the speech on Tuesday morning in a packed room of journalists (albeit mostly progressive journalists) at the Take Back America conference in Washington. Applause broke out several times and was widespread when Sen. Obama finished. I have heard from friends who haven't voted Democratic in three decades who were so moved by the speech that they say they will vote for Obama in November. A bad week?
And then there is the pack journalistic response to Sen. Obama's comment on his speech in a Philadelphia radio interview. Here is what he said:
"The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity. She doesn't. But she is a typical white person who, uh, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know there's a reaction that's been been bred into our experiences that don't go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it."
One mainstream media outlet after another classified the comment as a terrible mistake that will be harmful to the Obama candidacy. Obama was suggesting that whites are typically racists, they said. Many of them quoted only the part saying "she is a typical white person," omitting what preceded it, which explicitly said that this "typical white person" does not "harbor any racial animosity" and so is not a racist.
It seems that the Clinton campaign and Saturday Night Live have gotten under the skin of the mainstream political commentators, who are overcompensating for their putative soft treatment of Obama earlier in the campaign.
If last week was a bad week, Barack Obama could use many more bad weeks -- except that the public's perception may be more shaped by the media comments than the reality of what the candidate said, which demonstrated more forcefully than anything he had said or done before that Barack Obama is, as Gov. Richardson said in his endorsement, "a once-in-a-lifetime leader" who "will be a president who brings this nation together."
Far from reversing a bad week for Obama, Richardson's endorsement was based upon the very good week the Democratic frontrunner had and crowned that week.
Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College. His book, Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America, will be published by Crown next week.