After making what many political analysts are calling the most important speech of his political career, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sat down for an exclusive interview with "Nightline's" Terry Moran to further discuss the delicate issue of race in America. Obama explained to ABC News why this was the right moment for him to give such a politically risky speech.
"You could see race bubbling up in a way that was distracting from the issues that I think are so important to America right now," said Obama. "So what I wanted to do was to, rather than try to tamp it down, lift it up and see if maybe that would help clarify where we are as a nation right now on the issues."
Over the past few weeks, the issue of race exploded in Obama's and Sen. Hillary Clinton's, D-N.Y., presidential campaigns when supporters from both campaigns made controversial race-based remarks.
Long-time Clinton ally Geraldine Ferrarro stepped down from her position on the senator's finance committee, after making what some perceived as racially divisive remarks about Obama's candidacy. . In an interview with the California "Daily Breeze," she said that Obama would not ' be in this position,' if he was not black. While Obama denounces Ferraro's comments, he doesn't believe it is simply a matter of racism.
"You think about the experience of whites in a place like Boston or Scranton, Pennsylvania," he said, "where, at time of economic stress and difficulty, suddenly blacks are moving in and kids are being bused, and there's some sense that the economic competition is being tilted unfairly because of affirmative action. You think about her generation and her background, coming from a neighborhood in New York that went through some of those same things. And I'm sure that that is part of what's in her mind. And it's a mistake then to simply tag it as racist. It's not-- that's not what's going on."
Not only was Clinton drawn into the race spotlight this week by Ferraro's comments, but Sen. Obama was this week after his pastor, friend and mentor, Jeremiah Wright was found to have made sharp, disparaging comments about race relations in America.
In tapes of past sermons released after his retirement, Wright called America the "U.S. of K-K-K" and accused the federal government of creating the HIV virus to infect blacks.
Throughout the week, Obama appeared on various news channels, distancing himself from the comments he admitted were offensive, but the criticism didn't stop. In an attempt to quell the firestorm of criticism, today in Philadelphia the senator from Illinois delivered a speech on race in America.
"What I wanted to do was provide context for not just the controversy that's swirled around my former pastor," said Obama, "but for a shift in tone that we've been seeing in the campaign, both in the coverage and the comments of both my supporters, and Sen. Clinton's."
Obama admits that, given his historic candidacy, the issue of race was bound to become more prominent. "I expected that at some stage we'd have to give it," he said, of the speech he made this week. "[It] was unrealistic to anticipate that, during the course of this campaign, if not now then certainly in the general election, that this was not going to be an issue that had to be addressed."
While he admits the historic nature of his candidacy is important, he doesn't want his race to be the focus of his campaign.