Blaming illegitimacy as the cause of many of the African American community's woes has traditionally been a staple of the older-style neoconservatives, his speech got some praise from those quarters. For example, Linda Chavez wrote in Commentary's blog that Obama "deserves credit" for the speech and that "he could play an important role in speaking about the absence of fathers in the black community given his personal history as a child abandoned by his own father."
Inevitably, many proclaimed this semi-conservative criticism of African American culture to be Obama's "Sister Souljah Moment." Joshua Martin blogged at the Politico that "it's something of a Sister Souljah—yet one delivered from a member of the black community." The Boston Herald editorialized, "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had his Sister Souljah moment Sunday."
A "Sister Souljah Moment" is a buzz word for when a politician attempts to triangulate towards moderate voters by repudiating something or someone to their Right (for Republicans) or their Left (for Democrats.) The idea is to show that they are not captives of the ideologues and special interests of their party, as Bill Clinton allegedly did when he criticized the actual Sister Souljah in 1992. (See below).
Many political analysts apparently think that it is especially important for Barack Obama to have one of these moments—both to distract voters away from his far Left voting record and to distinguish himself from the typical grievance-mongering black politicians.
But Obama's Father's Day speech was not the first time Obama was said to have a Sister Souljah Moment. None of these occasions really pass the test.
When Obama made some vague statements suggesting he might support merit pay for teachers last July, MSNBC's First Read blog and Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi said it could be close to a Sister Souljah moment. Merit pay is a sound policy that upsets the teacher's unions. But Obama couldn't even bring himself to use the words "merit pay"—and most voters haven't heard of the policy anyway.
But this ignored the fact that Obama has been an unwavering supporter of race preferences his entire career.
But instead he went after "talk show hosts and conservative commentators".
But, while this may have sufficed if Wright was just some random race huckster, he was in fact the candidate's long-time mentor. Maureen Dowd even claimed this was "more than a Sister Souljah Moment"—it was a "painful form of political patricide." In other words, it was damage control, not triangulation.
So was Obama's Father's day speech his Sister Souljah Moment at long last?
To determine this, we need to look at the origin of the term.
When Bill Clinton first ran for president, he denounced "raptivist" Sister Souljah [Send her mail] for saying , after the Los Angeles Riots, "If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"
Clinton responded: "If you took the words 'white' and 'black' and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech."
Clinton was excoriated by Jesse Jackson and the rest of the black establishment. Sister Souljah herself called him a "hypocrite," saying "Sister Souljah was used as a vehicle, like Willie Horton and various other black victims of racism." [Rapper, Chided by Clinton, Calls Him a Hypocrite, By Sheila Rule, New York Times, June 17, 1992]
He eventually made nice with Jackson and like all Democrats carried virtually the entire black vote, but the controversy allowed him to gain support among white voters.
In contrast, the problem with Obama's Father's Day speech is that he didn't attack a position or any prominent person. He didn't even identify illegitimacy as a black problem.
And no one thinks illegitimacy is a good thing anyway. Even the most anti-white black race demagogues rail against it. In fact, that was one of the major themes of the Million Man March. Probably for that reason, Obama received almost no criticism from the Left, with the exclusion of a few socialist blogs.
What I find amazing about the original Sister Souljah Moment is not that it was a brilliant campaign move, but how stark the double standards are. Something was and is wrong when it's controversial to criticize someone for saying that blacks should kill whites.
Indeed, Clinton's comparison of Souljah to David Duke was way off. While Duke has some far-out views, he has never called for violence against blacks.
In this light, I propose a new definition of a Sister Souljah Moment:
"When a Democrat upsets the African American establishment by saying that Blacks shouldn't murder whites."
With this new definition, Obama came pretty close to having his moment in April when he called for a non-violent response to the acquittal of three police officers who shot and killed Sean Bell.
Sean Bell was twice-convicted drug dealer who had also been arrested for weapons charges. At a strip club under investigation for prostitution, an undercover policeman overheard one of Bell's his friend say, "yo, get my gun" so he "can shoot this white bitch." Bell and his cohorts went into his car. When the officers asked Bell to put up his hands, he accelerated his car, hitting an officer and a police van.
Al Sharpton was outraged by Obama's comments. He reportedly accused Obama of trying to "grandstand in front of white people." According to Sharpton, "[Obama] issues this statement and not a single rock had been thrown."
Two of the officers who shot Bell were black and one was Hispanic. Had any of them been white, it is a safe bet to say that many rocks would have been thrown.
Although Obama wasn't even referring to Sharpton when he called for non-violence, given the Reverend's history of inciting deadly riots, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to try to stop one before it started. Who knows what would have happened if Rodney King had asked "why can't we all get along" a few days earlier.
Indeed, Obama should have asked for a non-violent and "lawful" response, because Sharpton and his followers tried to "shut down the city" by blocking traffic. Sharpton and 216 others were arrested for their disruption. But he plans on creating more havoc when the Yankees host the Major League All-Star Game on in July.
Surprisingly I could not find a single commentator calling this a Sister Souljah Moment. Unfortunately for Obama, this little spat took place underneath the public radar.
If Obama really wants to triangulate, I suggest he demand Al Sharpton call off his next illegal protest and denounce the Reverend as a fraud, hustler, and shakedown artist who should have lost all credibility after Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, Freddy's Fashion Mart, and the Duke Lacrosse Hoax.
Don't hold your breath.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.