Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Speaks on Race and Religion

Barack Obama said what he needed to about the "incendiary" comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and said much more. Ginger Gibson writes in the News Journal:
PHILADELPHIA -- Confronting the anger and resentment of blacks and whites, Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered his deepest assessment yet on the politics of race. Over the first 13 months of his campaign, Obama had escaped most attempts to define his candidacy in purely racial terms.
Obama's speech reminds us of his ability to get people to think again about the issues that divide us and the common themes that unite us:
On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike. I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Obama didn't try to smooth over Reverend Wright's remarks. To say that his former pastor "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country" and was "not only wrong but divisive" is harsh criticism in Obama's moral view. There are three mistakes to avoid in responding to Obama's speech:
The first mistake would be to excuse Reverend Wright's remarks as reflecting the problems of the black community. These problems are real enough, but his comments, which Obama described as incendiary, do little to advance the state of blacks in America today.

The second mistake would be to want Obama to simply soothe our souls by saying, "It's alright, we really are past the race thing. You can stop worrying about it now." The truth is that we still see persistent racial inequities in our country that can not and should not be ignored or explained away.

The third mistake would be to do what comes easily in politics, which is to use Reverend Wright's intemperate comments as a reason to cast Obama as unfit to lead. We've been getting this for a year, with emails and scurrilous media reports that Obama is a secret Muslim and other easily debunked lies.

These three mistakes come automatically. But we shouldn't simply lapse into our default modes, and miss the chance to reflect on the state of race relations in America today.
Barack Obama isn't in the lead for the Democratic nomination because he's making people feel bad about America, but because he embodies what's great about America:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
Jim Wallis wrote in The Soul of Politics that "the best way to common ground is the path to higher ground." Barack Obama has again showed us his striving for higher ground. I hope that even those who have not and will not vote for him can take a moment to likewise strive to lift this country to higher ground.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't exactly extract himself from his racist pastor, did he? This will sink his campaign, piss off the black vote, give the nomination to Bitchary, and ultimatley the election to McCain.

1:09 PM, March 19, 2008  

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