Thursday, October 2, 2008

AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka on Racism and Obama

This speech brings out the truth of the racism that still exists in this country, but it makes me believe we really are turning a corner. His passion brought tears to my eyes.


Charles Gramlich said...

It would be foolish to vote against Obama because he's black, and to vote FOR him because he's black. I'm sorry, but I don't find this compelling at all. I plan to vote for Obama, but it strikes me as rather nasty to say that anyone who votes against him is a racist. That is ridiculous. I personally know a black faculty member at my university who will vote for McCain. He is certainly not racist.

Lisa said...

I don't think you listened to what he said. He didn't say anybody who didn't vote for Obama was a racist. He clearly said right up front that there are people whose only reason for not voting for him is because he's black. His speech is meant to convey that the AFL-CIO feels Obama best represents union interests. He is speaking out against racism to make his union membership recognize that the union believes Obama will best serve their and the country's interests. You can certainly question the AFL-CIO's backing of Obama and their wish to urge their membership to vote for him, but I think it's an unfair characterization of his speech to infer that he's saying that to not vote for Obama equates to racism.

Carleen Brice said...

He's addressing the very real issue that there are some who will vote against their own self-interests because they don't feel "comfortable" voting for a black man. He didn't say that voting against Obama because you disagree with his policies, plans or opinions is racist.

Lisa said...

See? This is why people pay you to write. Note to self: take lesson on economy of words.

Riss said...


Jennifer said...

"And there's only one really, really bad reason to vote against Barack Obama, and that's because he's not white."

100% agreed. I'm one of those annoying "undecideds," but I absolutely will NOT vote for McPalin. I cringe at the strange reasons people keep giving me for why I shouldn't vote Obama either. They're not really policy or voting regard related--at least, not when you press them to explain further.

His response to the woman was a good one; I think her confession would have left me speechless.

Jennifer said...

Er, that would be voting record related. I need more caffeine. :)

Stephen Parrish said...


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm sorry, but his direct quote is: "There's only one really, really bad reason to vote against Barack Obama. And that's because he's not white."

So, if Joe Smith votes against Barack Obama there is only one reason, and that's because he's not white. If William Jones votes against Barack Obama it's because he's not white. Now if we vote against somebody only because he's not white, that's racism. So every one who votes for McCain is a racist. Now maybe that's not what he meant, but it is what he said.

I support the Democrats but I also hold them to a high standard because I'm one of them.

Lisa said...


Read what you cited as his quote -- without the adverbs and maybe it's more clear:

"There's only one bad reason to vote against Barack Obama..."

In other words, if the REASON you're voting AGAINST him is simply because he's not white, that's a bad reason.

Are we still not hearing the same thing?

Charles Gramlich said...

Again, I don't know what he supposedly meant to say, but I don't think you can ignore words that he clearly says. His meaning to me, with all the words, is: "There's only one reason to vote against Barack Obama. And that's because he's not white." And he adds, in the middle and separated by commas, that it's a "really bad" reason. The pauses in his voice indicates to me that the "really bad" is not part of the kernal sentence. It is an independent clause that indicates his judgement on the "one" reason for not voting for Obama. I think it's useful to remember that Richard Trumka, as an elected leader in the labor movement, is as much a politician as Obama or McCain. I don't believe for a moment that he misspoke. He meant it exactly the way he said it, with the "really bad" as a clause.

I also believe that he makes some good points, and most of the "words" he says show his heart to be in the right place, but he blew his whole argument with that opening insult of roughly half the American people. Had he kept his discussion to the woman who clearly exhibited racism he'd be fine, although personally, knowing how politicians are, I'm not at all sure he really ever met such a woman. I actually think that this kind of rhetoric really backfires. The people who agree with him will cheer, and the people who don't agree will be pissed off and less likely to change than they were before. I hope, and believe, that Obama himself would be rather appalled at Trumka's opening statement.

Now, did you hear the pause differently?

Lisa said...


No, I don't. Let me try approaching this by putting this man and this event into context.

Richard Trumka is the Secretary-Treasurer (#2 guy) in the AFL-CIO, a voluntary federation that supports 54 international labor unions with an aggregate membership of over 10 million union workers. He's not a politician, but he is a powerful lobbyist, which is nearly the same thing. In June, according to the NYT politics blog: "The AFL-CIO's leaders voted overwhelmingly ... to endorse Barack Obama for President, saying the federation would spend more than $50 million and deploy more than 250,000 volunteers in this fall's campaign."

The only reason I'm pointing this out is that your comments indicate that you interpreted his speech as being directed at the American people in general.

He was addressing the Steelworkers Convention on July 1, 2008, which was sponsored by the United Steelworkers International President, Leo W. Gerard and he was speaking specifically to that group when he said:

"There's not a single good reason for any worker, especially any union member to vote against Barack Obama. And there's only one really, really bad reason to vote against Barack Obama, and that's because he's not white."

I reviewed all 301 comments to this video at YouTube to see if anyone else noted what you see and there wasn't a single comment that reflected the interpretation of this speech that you've made.

No matter how you arrange the punctuation, I'm still seeing a guy telling union workers that voting for Obama is in their best interest. I believe the anecdote about the woman in his hometown in Pennsylvania (which is a coal mining town) to illustrate the very real fact that many union workers will not vote for Obama because he's black, even though there is no good reason for them not to. I met plenty of people from rural Pennsylvania when I was in the military, lots of them from towns where steel mills closed down so I know first hand racism is pretty common among people from those places.

He is very clearly pointing to the elephant in the room and telling these people -- these union workers -- that if racism is preventing them voting for Obama, they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

If looking at this within the context of the venue and the audience doesn't alter how you hear what he's saying, we'll have to just agree to disagree on how we interpret this speech and that's totally cool.

G√ľnter said...

Charles, I agree with Lisa and others on this; Trumka is saying that, of the reasons a person might vote against Obama, his being black is the "one really, really bad reason" - not that it's the "one reason." There are other bad reasons to vote against Obama - for example, blindly thinking that he's going to raise taxes - but I understand what he meant. That is, to separate - maybe with the second "really" - Obama's blackness from the other merely "really" bad reasons.

Charles Gramlich said...

Well, English is a complex language, so we'll just have to agree to disagree. I don't actually know what he "meant." All I can judge by are the words he said. As soon as I heard him speak those words it clicked perfectly clearly in my head. Apparently it was different for other folks.

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