No, Obama Wasn't Talking "Black" in Roanoke

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 27 2012 2:23 PM

No, Obama Wasn't Talking "Black" in Roanoke

This Jonathan Chait post is almost completely wrong about "you didn't build that."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The key thing is that Obama is angry, and he’s talking not in his normal voice but in a “black dialect.” This strikes at the core of Obama’s entire political identity: a soft-spoken, reasonable African-American with a Kansas accent. From the moment he stepped onto the national stage, Obama’s deepest political fear was being seen as a “traditional” black politician, one who was demanding redistribution from white America on behalf of his fellow African-Americans.
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These are two separate points, and the first one is dead-bang wrong. Did Obama slip into a black dialect during that speech? Gosh, if only we had some other video of Obama talking about roads and bridges in a black dialect. Hang on -- we do! It's from the 2011 CBC dinner.

Obama's talking to a black audience about infrastructure, playing on the widely-expressed black opinion that Obama has it rougher than any other president. "Suddenly, Obama's proposing it -- what happened?" he says." What happened? Y'all used to like to build roads? Right? What happened? Rev., you know what happened? I don't know! They used to looooove to build some roads!"

Compare that to the Roanoke speech.

A little loose, but nothing like the CBC speech. Chait's second point is much stronger, because there is a sub rosa fear that Obama is redistributing wealth from "job creators" to shiftless food stamp-users. But the "black dialect" thing? No. Obama was making a point lots of liberals make, and in order to weaponize it, Republicans clipped the part that sounded "anti-business." It had nothing to do with vocal intonation.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.