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« Michael Moore: Disconnected from reality... | Main | Clash of ideas »

Saturday, May 03, 2008


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This mother wishes to raise her child in the mold of integrity, to have values and stick by them. As long as the young ones never have to take a stand against her, no matter how wrong she may have become over the years. What could be more difficult or more noble an example than to stand one's ground against the incorrigible self-aggrandizing and antiquated racial harangues of someone, though you have been close your whole life, no longer represents the kind of person you are nor the country you wish to lead?

Senator Obama is a black Christian man who lives very much inside of contemporary society. And that society is no longer constrained by (though continues to suffer from) the binary dictums of the ageing Boomer generation in their epic cultural battle between "the Man" the "dirty effing Hippie." As someone decidedly not an old-timer, I find the only thing repugnant the thoughtless clinging to some set of principles so ill-defined but so overbearing that they collapse in the face of reality.

The tragedy, it seems to me, is that we have be subjected to an unrelenting stream of sound-bytes, pontifications and guilt-by-associations. In return, we received one of the most personal, reflective and nuanced discussions of race in contemporary America. By a politician. By a decidedly black politician. By a black politician who stands a very good chance of becoming the President of the United States.

Do we defame the media? Do we bemoan the egomaniacal finger-wagging of a pastor? No, instead we take all of that and throw it at Obama without ever stopping to form a cogent argument as to why the blame -- any blame -- lay at his feet.

The author invokes the august terms of integrity and character and morality. But never once does she stop to consider if she is using them in the proper context, with serious thought, with considerations for the variables in both the large and small contexts of this moment in US history and one man's personal relationship, respectively. Does she assume the Senator can be both a politician and a man? Does she consider that someone may belong to a faith but not agree with every last church opinion? Does she acknowledge that while she (or anyone) might not entirely understand the actions of another, that relative ignorance does not equate to nefarious motives on the part of the other person? Does she not consider that relationships may, in fact, change and no longer be what the once were, even tragically so?

The answer to all of these is implied, and yet it is precisely perpendicular to her opinion. Consider for a moment, this: "If he truly believes the philosophy of his chosen church, and now denies it because he sees that it is a small-minority view, he defines himself as a wimpy scoundrel, unworthy of being Commander in Chief." Forgetting for the moment that what qualifies one to be a person of faith and what qualifies one to be President have been, are and forever should be mutually exclusive, the author conveniently forgets that the Senator has not abandoned his faith nor rejected 20 years of history. To make it so is to do far more than Obama has done himself, and with the great personal pain he has publicly demonstrated.

I find it troubling that when push comes to shove, people are willing to cite principles but not act with principle. This couldn't be more the case than with this author and her screed. If she is so crestfallen that Obama, in the wake of relentless media, punditocracy and competitor assault, has taken great pains to heal a rift until he could do no more than let go, then the problem rests not with Obama. It is rather the absence of considered thought altogether.

I make no apologies for Obama's distancing himself from his pastor, but I understand it. As a grown Gen X'er, I find myself living in ways that make the generation above me cringe. I don't say "my African-American friend" or "my gay friend" or "my Muslim friend" because it doesn't occur to me; political correctness is an oddity foisted upon me as I grew up. The cultural differences that define my generation are wholly other to those that defined my parents' and grandparents' generations. I understand them, and they are a part of me, but I don't play by those rules because they are not mine. Same, too, I suspect with Obama. And probably a goodly portion of the reason so many young(er) people identify with him.

Obama is no less a politician today than he was the Messiah yesterday. Everyone I know gets that. So I don't question how this situation has played out because I know when he says, "Yes we can" he is not hoping for people to make him JFK. He actually wants to enable people. And if that requires great personal sacrifice to make things better a generation or two down the line, so be it. This is precisely why this opinion is not so much odious as just incomprehensible: Obama is running for President and his pastor, though prone to occasional (but understandable, in the context of his particular pulpit) offense, took the stage and went bananas; Obama's hand was forced in the worst possible way by his Pastor and the media who gave him the stage; Obama even offered reconciliation in Philly, but Wright went wrong. Of course Obama would distance himself from that.

The bigger question is: Why did Wright not step up to the plate when all the guilt-by-associatiion started flying? And the answer lies squarely, I believe, in the crosshairs of generational divide. Wright couldn't apologize for his occasional flourishes in the pulpit, or just separate his actions from Obama's, because his is the epic cultural battle that has neither ceased, nor changed, since Selma. But times and circumstances and people have changed.

Obama has continually said throughout this campaign -- and especially around MLK Day -- that he is where he is, and we are where we are, because of history. But we are NOT history; we change, grow, progress from it. It is Wright who has failed Obama, and not the other way around.

I only hope that she never has to countenance the enormous personal difficulties Obama has faced, lest she act and become the "morally repugnant" person she so vociferously loathes. I suspect, though, that these are the cries of an older generation holding onto beliefs and battles that may have defined them, but no longer define the world today.

The change I and people I know seek is, as Andrew Sullivan has written, to say goodbye to all that. That is why Obama said goodbye to his pastor.


Amendment: I wrote that I don't point out race in my daily life, but said early on in my comment that Obama may be the first black President of the US. Before anyone gets in a tizzy, allow me to be clear: I don't think in racial terms, but I do in historically or contextually relevant terms, as in The First Black (or "African American" or Multi-Ethnic or Rhomboid or Whatever) President of the US.

Apologies for any confusion.

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