It was a sermon — of sorts.
President Barack Obama’s address at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday only rarely echoed the cadence — the preacher’s rhythm — of the speech he was there to commemorate, and could not match its moral force. But this was a sermon all the same.
It was, to be precise, an exhortation against economic inequality — a fitting message on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and certainly in keeping with Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.
But the real measure of yesterday’s speech is not whether it was as powerful as King’s — will any speech ever be? — but whether it was the most effective speech Obama could have given on this stage, at this moment in time.
It was certainly eloquent — both in what he said and in the simple but remarkable fact of his presence there, a black man as president of the United States. But if the hallmark of a great speech, like King’s, is its union of man, message and moment, Obama got two of those things right yesterday. The man, oddly enough, is what was missing.
Wednesday’s homily was as emphatic as anything he has said on the evils of inequality since last year’s election. Stagecraft and split-screen shots aside, Obama’s speech owed less to “I Have a Dream” than to “freedom is not enough” — President Lyndon B. Johnson’s June 1965 commencement address at Howard University, in which he signaled a shift to “the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.”