Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Not Perfect, But Being Perfected

A friend emailed me this morning and asked me if I'd seen presidential contender Barack Obama's speech regarding past statements by his pastor. Seems the pundits and opponents are trying every tack possible to sink his campaign. I doubt they'll succeed. I hope they don't. With this speech, Obama once again confirmed why we can and should elect him the next President of the United States. If you have seen his speech, you can watch it below. And once you have seen it, tell me what you think. Let's have an honest discussion here. Is Barack spot on or off base? Does this speech change your vote? Should a candidate be judged by the content of their pastor's personal views? What say you, readers?


Adriana Velez said...

Thanks for posting this! I've just spent the last several minutes posting a comment on another blog (http://www.greatwhatsit.com/archives/2244) on the speech and I'm not sure I made my point very clearly. I guess the simple way of putting it is THANK GOD SOMEONE IS FINALLY TALKING ABOUT RACE IN AN INTELLIGENT AND NUANCED WAY!

But then, scores of public intellectuals, filmmakers, authors, etc. have been talking about race in an intelligent, nuanced way. What makes the difference here? What did it feel like such a historic speech to me?

I kept thinking about Orpah back when she produced the film version Beloved. Leaving aside issues of artistic merit, Oprah kept saying she wanted to bring the story to the big screen because America still hasn't dealt with its legacy of slavery.

I don't know that the movie succeeded in pushing a national conversation on race along or bringing it closer to resolving our legacy of slavery. I think, honestly, what we need is for someone to define the conversation and set the tone.

And that's pretty much what Obama did. He acknowledged pain on everyone's side, he put his pastor in fuller context, he gave us all a short "Race in America 101" course to draw upon, and he displayed grace, forgiveness, and brutal honesty.

As I said on TGW, I think that makes him look like a stronger leader. I don't know how everyone else will take it -- should we hope for the best but expect the worst?

There's a debate over whether it's a good idea for him to further racialize his campaign. I think what he's doing is a sort of Tai Chi move -- rather than working against the forces that are trying to racialize his campaign he's moving with them, accepting them, and bringing them full circle. Certainly that neutralizes his opponents?

But then, there is that issue of opening a conversation. If he loses, will he continue the conversation? Will we? Or will we forget and go back to being polite and feigning civility? What if he wins? Will we drop it?

Adriana Velez said...

Hello? Anyone? Is this thing still on? (tap tap)

Holly said...

thanks for posting this. I am supporting Obama and this speech strengthened my support.

I agree with Adriana that he talks intelligently about race--and acknowledges the complexity of the issues surrounding and compounding race issues.

He's just so damn decent, human, moral and just!

I have been saying that the one good thing about this business with his pastor is that maybe it will put to rest this rumor that he can't say the pledge of allegiance or salute the flag because he's muslim, which would supposedly somehow make him ineligible to hold public office--as if there weren't muslims in government--I remember reading about one guy who was sworn in on the koran. But a second good thing about the stuff with the pastor is that it gives him opportunities for speeches like this.

Di said...

Hey adriana - your comments TOTALLY mirror my own thoughts, especially the final paragraph. Hope and belief are such tricky, tricky things -- after all, what if you turn out to be wrong, or to believe in something that's just a bunch of bullshit wrapped in nice words. I thik I'm particularly vulnerable in that area.

And yet...and yet. That speech was fucking brilliant. I believe it's the most mature and nuanced, sophisticated thing I've heard coming from an American politician, well, ever. Not pandering, calling us to action.

I really loved it. I do think it was historic, I hope it will be. It definitely should be. It didn't tap into the zeitgeist, it created a whole new one. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I thought the speech was awesome. I especially liked how he framed the whole thing with the words from the Preamble about forming a more perfect union. Yes.

I also like Jon Stewart's take on it last night--should be available at ComedyCentral.com or you can watch one of multitudinous replays today.

j.m. tewkesbury said...

There are three editorials in the Washington Post today that bear reading. I agree with Eugene Robinson, I don't agree with Michael Gerson, and I only partially agree with the WaPo Editorial staff. That said...

What I loved, loved, loved about this speech is that first, Obama didn't try to avoid was has been a volatile, touchy, and frustrating subject for so many for so long. Second, that he didn't reduce it down to an us versus them construct as is so often (but as he rightly pointed out, justifiably) the case. Third, he called all of us to action: blacks to start taking personal responsibility and stop being victims; whites to stop buying into political soundbites and make an honest effort to understand the history and source of the anger and frustration.

Fourth, he explained that racism is about more than just color versus color. It's about shame and frustration at not being able to provide for yourself and your family in the same manner in which your neighbors are able to provide. Fifth, he called us out on our self-imposed segregation, particularly on Sundays--a problem as a sociologist of religion I have long been disturbed by, as have many of my colleagues. And sixth, as Eugene Robinson wrote, Obama "proposed a conversation, not a monologue."

What I took out of all of this is exactly what Robinson captured in his editorial piece: resentment and frustration resides not only in the black community, but in the white community as well. This continued resentment and frustration fosters a continuing cycle of alienation, "grievance and countergrievance, insensitivity and hypersensitivity, and mutual mistrust." And to that, I have to say, AMEN!

Here's the challenge I feel so often and that frustrates me. (And in my frustration, I want to be part of the solution, but I'm not sure how to break through into conversation.) There's so much about the black community--history, culture, ideologies, religion, politics, etc.--that I don't understand and that is, in all truthfulness, foreign to me. And yet, I WANT TO UNDERSTAND. I want to be able to say, "Yes, I can see their perspective and why they would feel that way. Now I get it." Barack Obama did more to help me toward that understanding with this one speech than scores of colleagues and neighbors, pundits and politicians, teachers and parents have done.

At the same time, I also feel very strongly about personal responsibility. We've all, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, creed, name-your-demographic, at one time or another in our lives have experience some form of oppression, repression, or disenfranchisement. Some of us have, as Obama's speech pointed out, have experienced it more deeply and shamefully than any of us will ever understand or grasp. And yet... And yet, that does not entitle us remain victims. As was pointed out yesterday, the only way to break this vicious, destructive, inequitable cycle is stand up and say "Enough!"

And now, as I risk lapsing over into patronizing pontification, I'll stop. Obama's speech was stunning and timely. I only hope I can live up to his call to conversation and action!

j.m. tewkesbury said...

Whoops. Sorry, I meant to include links to the three editorials I mentioned in the Washington Post. Here they are:

Eugene Robinson: Obama's Road Map on Race

Michael Gerson: A Speech That Fell Short

WaPo Editorial: Moment of Truth

j.m. tewkesbury said...

Just one other thought and then I'll go away: What the pundits will continue to push and emphasize here is that Barack Obama didn't solve the "Rev. Wright Problem." To reduce his speech to that one issue is myopic. Obama's speech goes beyond the ugly words of his pastor. It transcends them and says, "What he said was wrong. The context that created his words and feelings was also wrong. Let's elevate this discussion to a higher level and really talk about what needs to be fixed regarding racism."

I think, if the American people aren't mindful of the pandering pundits, they'll miss that point entirely. And that would be a shame.

Anonymous said...

Obama did it again! He spoke truth to politics, and came out like any gentleman scholar could hope for.

- Phoebe

Jess said...

I haven't seen the speech and I can't listen from work because I don't have audio, but everything I've heard about it has said it was brilliant. I already voted for him, though, so no, it doesn't change my vote. Nor would it.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Phoebe: Yes, he did! :-)

Jess: You'll definitely have to watch it. It is historic in its scope and will likely go down in history as one of the great political speech of our time.