Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lengthier Reaction to the Obama Speech

Ok, aside from the visceral bit in that first post, where am I on the speech?

Honestly, I was impressed by a lot of aspects of it. First was, yes, the length. A lot of people are attacking it for that; I disagree. It wasn't short, but I'm getting a bit sick of sound bites, to be honest, and I can understand why he would avoid that.

Second, his treatment of Wright. Forget the "TWENTY YAERS!!!!" trolls. This was probably the best position to take, and I respected him a fair bit for it. Look, we all have friends, colleagues, and even mentors that we thoroughly disagree with on issues. We can call them out on it, and I'm sure you've all done it. Sometimes we say we've had enough, but much of the time, we get over it.

What most people would consider odious, though, is exactly what the barking legions online call for: to throw people aside because of political expediency. Friends, family, your own past, everything has to go if it might cost you a few points. Republicans don't have to deal with this so much, because they don't face anywher near the scrutiny a Democrat does, but Dems have faced this for decades, and they haven't worked it out.

I think people continually misinterpret the comparison between Wright and his grandmother he made. People are claiming that he was drawing some kind of false equivalence. I didn't get that impression at all. He was saying that you sometimes you have to embrace things about your family and, yes, community that you disagree with, because the alternative is far less moral. It doesn't matter whether their "sin" is seen as comparative mild (the reflexive racism of some older whites) or comparatively great (blaming 9/11 on America) ; they're a part of your life, and (this is hard for some people) there's more to them than their political positions.

That's one that really seems to be eluding people, by the by. Obama talked at length about the reasons why he admired Wright, reasons that had nothing to do with shouting about Israel or what-have-you, and almost every reaction I've read has completely ignored them. His work in the community? Ignored. His role in bringing Obama (and presumably, other troubled blacks) to Christianity? Ignored. His advocacy on behalf of a near-forgotten urban black community- a studied forgetfulness that helps propel black anger? Ignored. Conspicuously so. Yet it was some of the most compelling material, for me, because it showed precisely why you should go beyond politics, in ways that reinforce the whole point he's been trying to argue.

Also ignored? His entire discussion of race and slavery in America. That's sad, too, because I thought it was as good a summary as you could ask for. The point about the founders' ideals being subverted by the sin of slavery? As good as you could ask for, bringing up a lot of the contradictions that America should be trying to grapple with, but simply isn't. Yes, there's a reason for that; it's an uncomfortable subject about a ridiculously horrifying tragedy that American whites today benefit from, but had no part in. There's a lot of silly humor these days about "white guilt" and the kinds of extremes it can push people to, but the underlying confusion about what the hell white America should do and feel about the sins of their forebears--though not necessarily even their ancestors!--is very real, and very uncomfortable, and frustrating for all involved.

It would be different if America weren't founded on ideals. If American patriotism was just some narrow nativist nationalism, then it would be easier to excuse. But it is founded on ideals. To be an American is, partially, about believing in those ideals. And the institution of slavery was the most horrible violation of those ideals possible.

(Well, except for maybe genocide. Unfortunately, there are a few issues on that front, too.)

Honestly, on some basic level, I don't really care what this means for Obama's electoral prospects. I don't care if it helps him become president or not. I think we've hit a point where the address should be treated as its own entity, judged on its own merits.

(And not whether it's "too long" or not. That's just idiotic.)

I don't know if that'll happen. Maybe not until after this election is over. But it should. And I hope it will.

No comments:

Post a Comment