On One Hand

March 19, 2008

Step 2: Relating the Speech on Race to the Case for the Presidency

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:41 am
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Barack Obama’s speech on race is being lauded, by some, as one of the best speeches since Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The presidential candidate tackled accusations of his association with black separatism head-on without throwing embattled pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright under the bus, in an enthralling speech (which he wrote himself, I might add) that reminded his most avid supporters why they cast their ballots for Barack Obama in their state’s primary.

While Obama’s speech propels the nation a step forward in its racial journey – an act that, in itself, would justify the value of Obama’s candidacy even if he were to disappear from politics today – many are pointing out that it doesn’t help Obama make his case to be the next American president. It doesn’t help him with blue-collar or Catholic voters, and though it might help him with some feminist women who have so far been rooting for Clinton, it doesn’t gain him any votes he will need in the general election.

That’s where step two comes in. Obama needs to explain how his relationship with Jeremiah Wright makes him more – not less – qualified to be the next president of the United States.

The promise of racial healing is not enough; white, working-class voters who lack a college education (where Obama scores lowest in the Democratic electorate) simply don’t care about America’s “racial wounds” and need Obama to take his argument a step farther.

In our time of war, with an embattled Republican president who has refused, time and time again, to associate with anyone home or abroad who doesn’t cozy up to him, we need a Democratic candidate who has the force and the will to talk to those with a problematic worldview.

And that’s where Obama can win. If the candidate can explain that one must be willing to have friends from all over to unite a country and to give America a better standing in the world, he can turn the Jeremiah Wright scandal from a political nightmare to political gold. The Conservative media will rip its hair out over such a suggestion – we already know that their politics forbid one from associating with anyone who scores less than 10 on the “patriotism” scale and dissenters in any sense are challenged as “anti-American.” We know they prefer moralistic approaches to approaches that may require uncomfortable compromise but lead to real solutions and save lives. We also know that Bush’s approval rating is less than 35; the talking points of the Wall Street Journal and National Review have lost their clout, and more and more Americans agree with Obama’s desire to extend a hand as they point a finger. There is a deep rhetorical difference between Progressive and Conservative politics, and that difference is that progressives are more tolerant of dissent, disagreement, and finding key allies in those whose views may be hard to swallow. We’d rather take our fierce critics and turn them into fierce friends than revile until they approach even more dangerous extremes.

If Obama can find Christ through a pastor whose views are so deeply problematic that they leave most of us catching our breath, imagine how he might be able to illicit the support of leaders across the Muslim world into our “War on Terrorism” – essentially letting them fight our fight for us, since they will be more effective and less reviled on their own land. Had we done that from the beginning, our continued occupation in Iraq – as well as terrorist attacks on American citizens on U.S. soil and abroad – could have been avoided.

Jeremiah Wright’s troublesome nature is at the core of Barack Obama’s appeal, and why Obama’s brand of politics are so desperately needed in the United States. Because we know that, while Wright failed to give Obama his own pessimistic worldview on race relations in America, Obama does make skeptics like Wright into patriotic Americans – ask Wright himself what he would think of an America with Barack Obama as president. Our candidate can take the most destructively critical figures and make them proud Americans or American allies. In today’s violent world where this country’s political capitol is as weak as it could possibly be, such a bridge-building politician is exactly what we need.


1 Comment »

  1. Step 2? Read the speech about Iraq that Obama gave today. Bullseye.


    Comment by randomcha — March 19, 2008 @ 6:15 pm | Reply

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