Can we talk?

“See, man, that’s the difference between us. You think we’re fighting, and I think we’re finally talking!” — Rod Tidwell to Jerry Maguire

It was the fifth grade and my teacher, Mr. Russell, had his normal group of spellbound followers trailing in his wake as he walked to his car after school. The question of the day for his adoring disciples: “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”

Always being fairly quick on my feet, but not having a clue about this Democrat or Republican business, I countered: “I don’t know, but I am pretty sure I am a Protestant.” Thus began my troubled, lifelong quest to integrate matters of faith and politics.

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Add to this combustible mix a strong dose of race, and this year’s presidential campaign presents us with a perfect storm of topics that typically silence cocktail parties and backyard barbecues — and force bartenders to shout “last call” while the sun is still shining.

Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaModerate or left of center — which is better for Democrats in 2020? Obama: Countries facing severe effects of climate change offer 'moral call to rest of the world' Democrats' self-inflicted diversity vulnerability MORE (D-Ill.), who has given his share of inspiring speeches, has just delivered maybe the most important of his campaign. He was forced to schedule it because of questions about racially charged sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ for nearly 20 years.

Explaining his loyalty to the reverend, Obama also used the speech, entitled “A More Perfect Union,” to separate himself from some of the “incendiary,” “distorted,” “wrong,” “divisive” and “racially charged” comments that Wright delivered in some of his sermons.

Whichever of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) oppo researchers had the job of making Jeremiah Wright a household name must know that Obama has taken the full force of the assault, embraced it and, like many great politicians, turned it around, for his own purpose.

The Wright controversy came on the heels of Clinton’s own, after former vice presidential candidate and Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro had the audacity to suggest that “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” After thinking it over for about a week, Team Clinton decided to dump Ferraro onto the political trash heap that had earlier received Obama adviser Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerFormer US envoy Samantha Power: Trump finding 'new ways to compensate Putin for election interference' Former UN ambassador: Republicans have made a 'devil's bargain' to accept Trump Obama U.N. ambassador: Trump has 'endorsed ethnic cleansing' MORE after she called Clinton a “monster.”

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Such is the state of modern-day, hyperlinked, YouTubed campaigns, where risky thinking and earthy language are not encouraged, except, of course, by those who cover campaigns for a living.

Whether or not Obama becomes president, my hope is that the Philly speech becomes a rallying cry for all who think that the way to get race-healthy as a nation is to start by allowing people to get their thoughts out there and not jump down their throats for less-than-polished articulation.

How about this to get the discussion started: I don’t agree with the gist of Ferraro’s comment, but you would need to commit intellectual suicide to say race was not a “significant” factor in picking Obama to give his now-celebrated speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I didn’t say “only” and I didn’t say “the most” significant factor.

How about this: If we have the first-ever bona fide female candidate and the first-ever bona fide black candidate, maybe it is time for a robust discussion on whether or not affirmative action and other special preference programs created to address past injustices can now be retired. Are we ready for this discussion? Can we possibly have that chat without racial invectives being slung about?

about this: Condoleezza Rice pops up on everyone’s veep list for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE (R-Ariz.). I happen to think Rice is a C-minus secretary of State and before that was an F-minus national security adviser — the worst in history, not forgetting that her predecessor stole secret documents and stuck them in his Jockey shorts.

Rice is overrated, and a case could be made that she has survived in this administration because she is African-American. Can we handle a discussion about that without charging “racism”?

The ultimate answer to these and other risky questions might lie in the nation’s response to a guy from Chicago who gave one heck of a speech just across the street from where the Founders crafted the Constitution.

“For we have a choice in this country. ... We can play Rev. Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.”

You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.