From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Breaking down the speech: In his much-anticipated, wide-ranging address from Cairo this morning, President Obama called for a "new beginning" between the United States and the Muslim world, urging the two "to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground." There wasn't much new from Obama in the speech; in fact, George W. Bush said some very similar things when he was president. The problem for the former president, however, was that there wasn't much follow-through from his administration. And that also will be the challenge for Obama. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters this morning, "[Obama] set forth a clear challenge to us and all in the world who share hope for peace and security. Now we have to get to work to translate that into concrete action." In other words, the speech was the easy part…
*** Words for Americans and Muslims: Still, his address was classic Obama: It was nuanced and called for an honest discussion about the circumstances that currently divide Christians, Jews, and Muslims. "As the Holy Koran tells us, 'Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.' That is what I will try to do -- to speak the truth as best I can." The first part of his speech was directed more at Americans than at the world, making the case why Islam is a peaceful religion. "Partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't." But Obama then contended that the Muslim world needed to stop its stereotypes about the United States. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."
*** Opposing violent extremism: Also in the speech, Obama maintained that the global world demanded partnership and shared progress. But he argued that the world can't ignore current conflicts, and he devoted the rest of his speech to addressing the thorny issues the world "must finally confront together." The first one he touched on was combating violent extremism and Al Qaeda. "The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind… Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace." The president also mentioned the situation in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq (saying it was a reminder of the need to use diplomacy and international consensus), and his calls for ending torture and the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
*** Israel and Palestine: That's right we wrote the word "Palestine," something American presidents usually don't utter. But Obama said the word -- twice. (*** UPDATE *** NBC's Andrea Mitchell points out that Bush 43, in his first UN speech, made a very big deal about using the term Palestine, and it was a big story at the time.) When Obama turned to the intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict, you could almost feel the tension in the room, per one of us who was there. The president once again calling for a two-state solution. He offered empathy and criticism to both sides. For Israelis, he said that the bond between the U.S. and Israel was "unbreakable," and he denounced those who still deny the Holocaust. But he also talked about how Palestinians have suffered in pursuit of their own homeland, said that his government doesn't accept "the legitimacy" of Israeli settlements. "If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth," he said. "The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security." Drawing on history of the civil-rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid crusade in South Africa, Obama also contended that continued violence -- on both sides -- won't solve the conflict. "That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."
*** Iran, democracy, religious freedom, women's rights: Next, Obama addressed Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, saying that the U.S. wants to prevent a Middle East arms race, but that all nations -- including Iran -- should be able to have the right to peaceful nuclear power. He called for democracy around the globe, claiming that governments that promote free speech, equal application of justice, transparency, and human rights for all its citizens are "more stable, successful, and secure." He also touched on religious freedom, women's rights in the Muslim world ("Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons"), and economic development.
*** "Our work here on Earth": The president concluded his remarks by saying that achieving those goals won't be easy -- and that dwelling on the past certainly won't help the world meet them. "All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time," he said. "The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings." He then quoted passages from the Koran, the Talmud, and the Bible that spoke of peace and common bonds. "We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning… The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth."
*** The rest of Obama's day: After his speech, the president attended a lunch and roundtable with Egyptian reporters, and then began a tour of the pyramids. He departs for Dresden, Germany at 11:05 am ET, arriving there at 2:50 pm. One other observation about Obama's speech: For those that wonder why it didn't have the normal amount of Obama flourishes they've become accustomed to, realize that the speech was being translated into 13 different languages and translating a flourish from English to Farsi, for instance, doesn't compute. Obama's words had to be less flowery for English and more straight-forward in order to make the translations have similar meaning.
*** Sotomayor's day: Another day, another round of Sotomayor courtesy calls on Capitol Hill. The Supreme Court nominee meets with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (at 11:15 am ET), Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (at 12:15 pm), Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn (1:00 pm), and Delaware Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman (at 4:15 pm). Also today, apparently seeking to capitalize on some the conservative rhetoric aimed at Sotomayor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid holds a press conference with Latino leaders from the National Council of La Raza, the National Hispanic Bar Association, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
*** Yes, Virginia, there is a race: A week ago, the Conventional Wisdom was that Terry McAuliffe was clearly ahead in Virginia's three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary against Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran. But with just five days until Primary Day, that no longer appears to be the case. The Pollster.com aggregate has Deeds at 27.4%, McAuliffe at 25.3%, and Moran at 21.9%. Translation: This contest may very well be a jump ball, especially since no one knows who will turn out. In particular, analysts believe Deeds is surging after picking up the Washington Post's endorsement. As for McAuliffe, he has the advantage in money and has focused like a laser on the economy. But some Virginia political experts, like Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, wonder whether the issue of electability -- which played an important role in the '06 Dem primary that Jim Webb won -- could be dragging down McAuliffe. "There's a nagging belief, if you talk to Democrats, that McAuliffe can't win" in November against Republican Bob McDonnell, Sabato tells First Read. But McAuliffe adviser Mo Elleithee disagrees, arguing that the Macker's fundraising ability, his organization, and his business experience make him the most electable Democrat. "The general election is going to be about who can create jobs for Virginia," Elleithee says. "When we put Terry's background up against Bob McDonnell's, the choice couldn't be any more clear."
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 152 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 516 days
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