Notes on Obama: Virginia Tech, Violence and the Road Ahead

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Immediately following the Viriginia Tech massacre earlier this week Barack Obama delivered a heartfelt address to a Milwaukee audience.  (to hear the mp3 click here)

Rather than stick to his scripted speech, Senator Obama lowered the tone of the gathering and spoke directly to what he believes is at the heart of the problem within this nation, what he calls “our incapacity to recognize ourselves in each other.” It is the blatant disregard with which we handle one another that brings about the kind of violence witnessed by the Virginia Tech community experienced as well as the kind of violence Don Imus wrought with his glib remarks.

Listening to the speech this morning it occurred to me that impromptu nature of the speech really allowed for a unique look into Obama that people long for. By the time the speech was finished I had taken post-its worth of notes I wanted to share with a wider audience:

Note # 1:

Obama adeptly links physical violence with verbal violence, the violence of destroyed lives and violence of ignored people.


1. His capacity to see the bigger picture and break it down into chunks for his audience without losing them

2. His approach to understanding violence is intellectual rather pragmatic. He sees it as a Baldwin might see it: as a deeply rooted problem that has many different but equally pernicious effects on the psyche of the people.

3. He makes his first connection with the Civil Rights Movement via a 40 year-old Robert F. Kennedy quote concerning the glorification of violence and its corrosive effect on American society.

Note #2:

In the ad-lib format Obama the Populist peeps out from behind the shadows of his increasingly Moderate public persona


1. When he dovetails his speech into the salient issues of healthcare, education , war and energy we hear glimmer of what we long to hear from him even more. We hear a populist who sees the failure of No Child Left Behind; who sees the dreadful contradictions in an energy policy that ultimately funds hostile nations to the tune of $800,000,000 a day; who sees the waste an unjust war has wrought; and who sees that our healthcare system must be radically reformed in order to provide for all.

2. He makes it abundantly clear to his audience that the election is not about him but about them. He is merely a conduit for the people.

3. Obama’s closing remarks: “At every juncture in American history it’s been because of you, that change has happened. If we’re going to make this a less violent, a more just, more equal, fair, happy land, if we’re got be more respected around the word it’s going be because of you. I’m ready to stand with you and be your partner in that process.”

Note #3:

Despite his abstract tendencies, he never fails to remain grounded in the personal experience of common Americans. What makes his connection with ordinary people unique is its subtlety. It’s not the over-the-top ‘I hunt game’ of Mit Romney and it’s not a clutching to issues like ‘poverty’ to prove one’s moral credibility.


1. When speaking about his two little girls he says he hopes that will get athletic scholarships to college. How often do we hear a presidential candidate express a genuine concern of that nature? It is that kind of candidness that people connect with. Obama appears to his constituents as a man with their problems

Note #4:

By recalling his Selma, Alabama experience Obama deftly positions himself within a Civil Rights continuum despite being cut from a different cloth. Doing so is critical because Obama is weakest with that generation. If he can begin to link himself to America’s most promising and widely lauded movement for change he can begin to win over the demographic he is polling weakest with.


1. Obama calls John Lewis “one of my heros.”

2. He quotes from Dr. King’s Selma speech: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”