Sunday, March 16, 2008

Obama decries rash of divisive campaigning

Johanna Neuman, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, March 16, 2008

(03-16) 04:00 PDT Washington - --

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday lamented the rhetorical skirmishes that have recently turned the Democratic presidential campaign into a contest over race and gender.

"The forces of division have started to raise their ugly heads again," he said at a town hall meeting in a high school in Plainfield, Ind.

Obama did not mention by name his rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, or the recent string of barbs traded between the two campaigns. "I'm not here to cast blame or point fingers," he said.

In the last week alone, Obama distanced himself from his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for saying Clinton, being a woman of privilege in a country run by whites, could never understand blacks. During the same week, Clinton accepted the resignation from her finance committee of former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York after Ferraro said that she believed Obama would never had gotten this far in the presidential race if he had not been black.

"We've got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country," Obama said, noting "pent-up anger and mistrust and bitterness." But, he added, "I continue to believe that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of things."

Noting his own ethnic background - his mother was white and his father black - Obama said: "As somebody who was born into a diverse family, as somebody who has little pieces of America all in me, I will not allow us to lose this moment."

As the crowd came to its feet shouting, "Yes we can, yes we can," Obama said it is important to speak up against inflammatory words like those of his former pastor, but equally important to come together.

"It is within our power to join together, to truly make a United States of America," he said. "That's the only way that we're going to deliver on the big issues we're facing in this country. We cannot solve health care divided. We cannot create an economy that works for everybody divided. We cannot fight terrorism divided. We cannot care for our veterans divided. We have to come together."

Obama spoke in Indiana as he directed his political attention to states beyond the critical April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Indiana and North Carolina have primaries on May 6, two weeks after Pennsylvania's on April 22.

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