In 40 years we have come so far yet fallen so short.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis hours before he was set to speak on behalf of garbage workers in that city.

Hours later, a man with experience in the feelings assassinations can arouse, spoke to a crowd of African-Americans in Indianapolis. He was also - coincidentally - seeking the Democratic nomination for President.

Robert F. Kennedy took the platform and announced the horrible news to the crowd. His speech went beyond politics, beyond announcing a tragic death, and far beyond the normal discourse on race in a public setting.

"My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: 'In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black," Kennedy said.

He went on to say, "We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we've had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land."

Four decades later, a man whose heritage is half black is one of the top candidates in the Democratic Party. In the midst of this campaign, his pastor was found to have made incredibly insensitive comments that - even in context - sound highly critical of the country that offers him the freedom to make them.

After these comments created immeasurable controversy, Barack Obama took the stage in Philadelphia and made the most insightful speech on race and politics since RFK announced the death of the civil rights leader.

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe," Obama admitted. "These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love. Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated bias. But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality."
His comments allayed the concerns of many who heard his impassioned plea.

But were they real? Were they heartfelt or heartless?

His former pastor - who started the dust-up - said last week they were merely words of political convenience.

"He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician," Rev. Jeremiah Wright told Bill Moyers last week. "I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician. But he did not disown me because I'm a pastor."

Were Obama's words hollow? Was their meaning merely to help him gain votes? Or is he new-breed leader in a decades old battle of racial equality?

We will know soon enough.

It is easy to understand the disillusionment of the voters. Even the suggestion that such strong words of hope and passion could be empty and contrived is disturbing.

We need a real leader who offers real leadership.

I hope we find one.