Veil Of Politics
At a small, exclusive New York City fundraiser Thursday night featuring the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Obama compared himself and his agenda to that of Martin Luther King Jr.
Barack Obama said:
“And now that King has his own memorial on the Mall I think that we forget when he was alive there was nobody who was more vilified, nobody who was more controversial, nobody who was more despairing at times. There was a decade that followed the great successes of Birmingham and Selma in which he was just struggling, fighting the good fight, and scorned, and many folks angry.
But what he understood, what kept him going, was that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. But it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because all of us are putting our hand on the arc and we are bending it in that direction. And it takes time. And it’s hard work. And there are frustrations…”
The following is purported to be the true story of how this speech was written. Here, Obama is reading the speech to his press secretary, Jay Carney:
* * *
Barry: “And now that King has his own memorial on the Mall…”
Carney: I think it’s more like, “We have a memorial to King.” I mean, King’s dead, so he can’t have his own anything. And it sounds like he has a memorial in a shopping center.
Barry: I like my idea better. “And now that King has his own memorial on the Mall, I think that we forget when he was alive…”
Carney: I think you’re mixing tenses.
Barry: What’s a “tense?”
Carney: You know, past tense, present tense, past tense participle.
Barry: What’s a “participle?”
Carney: If I remember correctly, it’s a verbal form used as an adjective.
Barry: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Carney: Keep going.
Barry: “…I think that we forget when he was alive, there was nobody who was more vilified…”
Carney: He wasn’t that vilified.
Barry: Yes he was.
Carney: No he wasn’t. Sure, he was vilified down south among hard-core segregationists, but the rest of the south and the country and the government lauded him.
Barry: Maybe I’m confused. What’s “vilified?”
Carney: You know, to speak ill of.
Barry: What’s “illuv?”
Carney: “Ill” – to speak ill of.
Barry: So you’re saying a lot of people liked him.
Barry: Why didn’t you just say so? I like my idea better. “…Nobody who was more vilified, nobody who was more controversial – “
Carney: Well, not really.
Barry: You tell me who was more controversial at that time.
Carney: For one, the politicians of the south. And radical blacks who advocated violence.
Barry: What are you, in the Klan or something?
Carney: You need to be accurate.
Barry: I like my idea better. “…Nobody who was more vilified, nobody who was more controversial, nobody who was more despairing at times — ”
Carney: Too many “nobody’s.” Besides, your points are all wrong. And what are you talking about with him being “despairing?”
Barry: Who’s despairing?
Carney: King. You said nobody was more “despairing.” In fact, it’s the opposite – he had a lot of hope. Don’t you remember his whole “I have a dream” thing?
Barry: He had a dream?
Carney: Like “Dreams of Your Father.”
Barry: Why do people keep asking me about my father’s dreams – I never even met the guy!
Carney: Your book.
Barry: What book?
Barry: That’s a terrible title for a book. It doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Carney: Those are two different books.
Barry: I never heard of Or Audacity of Hope.
Carney: Audacity of Hope – it’s your book.
Barry: This is true.
Carney: Keep going.
Barry: “…Nobody was more despairing who also had a dream – “
Carney: No, that doesn’t work. Just go with one or the other.
Barry: Good. By the way, what’s “despairing” mean?
Carney: Don’t worry, you got it right. Keep going…
Barry: “…Nobody was more despairing – at times…”
Barry: “There was a decade that followed the great successes of Birmingham and Selma…” I forgot who they are.
Carney: They’re cities. That’s where great civil rights battles were won.
Barry: Oh. I thought Birmingham and Selma was a vaudeville act. Where is Birmingham andSelma?
Carney: In different parts of Alabama.
Barry: It’s not one city, like Miami-Dade?
Carney: No. You do know where Alabama is, don’t you?
Barry: Of course. It’s one of the lower 57 states.
Carney: Is it 57?…
Barry: “…In which he was just struggling, fighting the good fight, and scorned, and many folks angry – “
Carney: — Wait. That’s terrible. It sounds like a child wrote that.
Barry: I wrote it.
Carney: Trust me, it sounds terrible: “He was just struggling; and “many folks angry?”
Barry: Wasn’t he? And weren’t they angry? They were all down for the struggle. Or up for the cause. Or up for the struggle and down for the cause. I get them mixed up.
Carney: How in the world did you write those two books?
Barry: What do you mean?
Carney: What do you mean, “what do I mean?”
Barry: You know?
Carney: Know what?
Barry: Aren’t you friends with Bill Ayers?
Carney: No, I never met him.
Barry: “…But what he understood, what kept him going, was that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice – “
Carney: It should be: “the arc of the morality of the universe.” I think. And the universe is infinite – anyway, it’s a metaphor: you should use all of it.
Barry: What’s a “meta” for?
Carney: Are you serious?
Barry: Of course I’m serious. What’s a “meta?”
Carney: Nothing’s the matter.
Barry: Then why are you changing my speech?
Carney: I’m only saying you need to know how to use a metaphor.
Barry: Okay. What’s a “meta?”
Carney: Nothing’s the matter. I’m just trying to help you.
Barry: Is it me, or is one of us not making themselves clear? What’s a “meta?”
Carney: Nothing’s the matter! Why do you keep asking me that?
Barry: This sounds just like the conversations I had when I was head of Harvard law review…
Carney: Mr. President, you’re freaking me out…
Barry: Alright, forget it. I’ll continue: “…But it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because all of us are putting our hand on the arc and we are bending it in that direction – “
Carney: Are you joking?
Carney: It sounds like ten-year-old wrote that.
Barry: You tell me what ten-year-old knows about the bending of the moral universe? “… And it takes time. And it’s hard work. And there are frustrations.” So?
Carney: You can’t deliver that speech. It’s a mess. You can’t put those words into history.
Barry: You’re crazy. I read it to Michelle and she loved it.
Carney: Why is it you continually refuse to write in the language in which you wrote your books in?
Barry: What do you mean? Those books are in English as well.
Carney: Not the language literally – I meant the style. The flair.
Barry: Bill Ayers is mad at me.
Carney: What’s that got to do with it?
Barry: He won’t talk to me.
Barry: You don’t know what I’m taking about, do you?
Barry: Let me suffice to say this: I just don’t like writing anymore. Except occasionally, when I feel like it. Look, I’m giving the speech to the Hollywood crowd – they don’t care if anything I say makes sense. I mean, what do they know? They hate their country, but have no idea why. At least I do.
Carney: Promise me you’re never going to say that again. Ever.
Barry: Why can’t I say “that” again?
Carney: I have to tell you why?
Carney: If you say that again, and it is recorded, you will be impeached.
Barry: Everybody says “that.” Every president in the history of the United States has said “that. What are you talking about?
Carney: What are you talking about?
Barry: I swear — I’m having a flashback to the Harvard Law Review meetings!
Carney: No politician in the United States has ever said that!
Barry: You just said it!
Carney: Said what?
Carney: I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t say I hate my country, you did!
Barry: Then you said not to say “that” again!
Carney: That’s right!
Barry: …I don’t know what other word to use!
Carney: To use for what?
Barry: — That!
Carney: Again, I apologize Mr. President, but I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.
Barry: Let’s change the topic, shall we?
Carney: Thank you.
Barry: So why is it you don’t hate your country?