}

A Speech for a Country

barack.jpgI’m not sure whether ck wrote his post about Obama’s speech in response to this one or on his own, but he seems to differ with me on this speech quite a bit. Gotta love Jewlicious.

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.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Forget the politics for a moment, although they obviously drove this speech. The topic, race, is what matters.

Barack Obama chose to address some of the nasty public comments made by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The result, in my opinion, is an important speech and perhaps one of the best political speeches I’ve heard in a while. It is (Bill) Clintonian in its intelligence, and ability to reach out to people and to find a middle ground among groups with strong differences. The topic, race, however, is a critical one for American society and as such it gives this speech additional weight and makes it nothing less than profound.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

In some ways, the discussion of race was inevitable in this election because Obama is the first realistic and viable Presidential candidate in the history of the United States. I happen to believe that it was his campaign that infused the “race card” into this race in S. Carolina and that he made this speech because the topic has boomeranged – there’s little scarier, or more anger-causing to the white majority than to hear a black leader attack the country as Obama’s pastor did. However, in this speech, Obama deals with the issue of race relations in the US in an honest, forthright and perceptive manner. He seeks to find a healing place and the commonality of all.

For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

It is a great speech. Obama is not afraid to speak the truth and isn’t holding back in a manner that you’d expect from a politician. It’s true that he’s fighting for his political life here, but it seems that he decided to do so with integrity and forthrightness instead of playing games. Read it!

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

Gotta feel a little sorry for Hillary. Obama is a formidable opponent to have to face. By the way, I heard her on NPR the other day and then he was interviewed the following day. Both were hard and demanding interviews and in both the politicians had to be on their toes. Her performance was far superior, in my opinion, and drove home that she would be a better opponent to face McCain than Obama. This speech by Obama, however, indicates that while he may not be as competitive in facing McCain, there is little doubt that he has the maturity and vision to actually lead the country. After 8 years of Bush, having 3 candidates of this quality is a great thing for the US.

32 Comments

  1. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 2:09 pm

    That Middle, a man of some insight and a Hillaryista at that (or is that a former Hillaryista?) has been taken in by this drek is startling.

    Here’s a clever variation on the theme of hating the sin but loving the sinner, with a dollop of changing the subject mixed in. As to the former: this isn’t about “dismissing” Wright, it’s about addressing what he said. You don’t want me to condemn him in a blanket manner? OK, Barack, I won’t. But I feel free, ethically and otherwise, to address, and categorically condemn, what he said.

    As for changing the subject: what were you doing in the pews, Barack, having this character bless your marriage and baptize your children, for the past twenty years? We can safely assume Wright’s rants weren’t confined to the 9/11 aftermath. How did you react when Wright turned Farrakhan during his services? Did you walk out? Remonstrate with him? Instruct your children to disregard his messages of hate?– ’cause that’s what they are, Middle, plain and simple.

    Barack certainly makes moral relativism seem nice and comfy, I’ll give him that. Actually, that’s a third element– your mother wears combat boots, so get off my ass. Wright’s screeds somehow compare with Ferraro’s clumsy comments?

    You buyin’ this, Middle? Wow.

  2. themiddle

    3/19/2008 at 2:39 pm

    I not only bought it. I was moved by it.

    It was honest and forthright.

    He rejected, quite openly, what his pastor said (for the umpteenth time), stated, again, his strong feelings of opposition to the WRONG comments by this pastor and has done so publicly. He does compare the hatred in Wright’s attacks to Ferraro’s comment, and I disagree with the comparison. However, I’m not a black candidate for President who has outmaneuvered the Clintons (!!!!!) and then had somebody pronounce me lucky to be a black man because it means I have an advantage. I don’t think Ferraro meant it as a racist comment, she was being honest about some of his advantages. But I can see how Obama would take it as plain-faced racism. By the way, he’s forgiving of it and doesn’t put it on the same plane, in my opinion, as Wright’s remarks.

    I don’t expect Obama to reject his pastor, because then he’d be disloyal to this man after 20 years. I also don’t expect him to pretend he didn’t know what Wright was about, and he doesn’t. That takes some integrity and courage. He attempts to explain that this pastor opened his eyes when he was much younger and filled his heart. We’ve all had that experience when young. It might be a professor, or a rabbi or a unique friend or mentor, but sometimes people touch us and open our eyes in a way that is hard for us to ever forge. Obama is openly stating that this is the foundation of his relationship with this man.

    He then proceeds to call his comments wrong and to state that he rejects them. But he understands where they are coming from. This is important to note, Tom, because both of us are white and don’t have a clue about what blacks in this society have to live with. Think about Clarence Thomas and his rage that nobody believes he’s anything but a beneficiary of affirmative action. Think about Michelle Obama’s screed against this country having never made her proud when she is the epitome of a successful woman, never mind a successful black woman.

    There are things we can’t understand so easily. I think he put the conversation on the table honestly, however, and in a way that gently attacks both blacks and whites and then seeks to bring them together.

    In light of the S. Carolina tactics used by his campaign, this would seem hypocritical and I won’t deny that it’s self-serving. However, the political purpose of the speech notwithstanding, this is an important speech becaus it navigates through the Scylla and Charybdis of race relations in a healing and positive manner.

    Finally, I don’t understand what more people are expecting from Obama. He states clearly that he opposes what the pastor says. However, he understands it and where it’s coming from. Second, if he dumps the pastor, he’s disloyal not only to him but to the many blacks who buy into what Wright says – and as Obama tries to explain, there are many issues which Wright brings up that may not be spoken in front of whites but are spoken nonetheless. Third, he talks openly that racism goes both ways. Fourth, he is forthright about needing to find solutions. Fifth, he openly expresses the positive: changes that have come about in society that contradict Wright’s claims; the coming together of many disparate communities within our society; the possibility of (I hate to say it) further “change;” the similarity in the plights of certain Americans regardless of their race; etc.

    Wow, and I thought I was a cynic.

  3. ck

    3/19/2008 at 2:45 pm

    Racism is bad. We’ve made some progress. We should make some more.

    That’s what his speech boils down to. I don’t know any viable candidate who wouldn’t agree. Once again, I remain unimpressed. And yet I llok around, incredulous at how otherwise intellignt people are tripping over themselves and characterizing this self-serving but none the less fluffy and substanceless speech as One Of The Most Important Political Speeches Of The Century.

    Change! Hope! Progress! Yay!

    Oy. I need to brush my teeth.

  4. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 2:48 pm

    I’m fine with Obama’s standing by Wright. I don’t think he should be forced to reject his minister of 20 years. I just don’t think Obama can wipe the slate clean by distancing himself from such comments as Fox managed to churn up.

    Yeah, Middle, I’m a white guy. I guess this means– what? I get to condemn white guys, but have to keep my distance from people of color? I have no idea what black Muslims go through, but it doesn’t keep me from condemning violence in Darfur. I won’t accuse you of this, but I find it condescending when white liberal types give wayward black folks a pat on the head, saying, ‘well, after all, I can have no idea of the sufferings you’ve endured.’ Sorry, but I have a quaintly romantic belief in inidividual responsibility. I thought Obama did, too.

    The real issue is Obama’s conduct, what he did and when over this 20-year association. I think he failed wholly to address this.

  5. ck

    3/19/2008 at 2:49 pm

    Oh btw TM, I hadn’t seen your post before I posted mine. Good post though!

  6. themiddle

    3/19/2008 at 3:04 pm

    Tom, I only condescend to antisemites and atheists, never to Catholics.

    Let me pose the question to you this way. If you were the black candidate, what would you say in a speech where you had to bring up race and where you have to address the nasty comments made by your priest? Keep in mind that you are a politician.

    I ask this because Obama has to deal with some unspoken fears and hatreds simply because of his color. It’s a little like Lieberman having to contend with the suggestion that a Jewish politician can’t be elected President as well as the accusation that he will place Israel’s interests ahead of America’s. He can’t escape the reality of the presence of these concerns/fears in people’s hearts. Obama has been forced to speak to a difficult subject that needs to be addressed somehow. I think he did it well but I’d like to know what you would do differently so that Tom Morrissey, an MA voter, would have been satisfied.

  7. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 4:27 pm

    Whoa, how come ck’s post has the funkadelic Barack, and yours looks like he’s got acid reflux?

  8. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 4:42 pm

    Well, to answer your question, Middle: it’s tough, because it’s hard to walk away from a 20-year association. Specifically as to Wright, I’d have rejected the comments and left it at that (or tried to). I think Barack is stuck with Wright. He made his choice.

    The moral-equivalence approach really bugs me. The speech seems an artful way of defusing this mini-crisis by pointing out that we’re all captives of unhealthy racial attitudes. True enough, but trying to sweep Wright under the rug by, inter alia, comparing his words to Ferraro’s is far too much of a stretch. This has a whiff of the teenage kid who tries to excuse his own misdeeds by figuring, after all, mom and dad smoked pot at his age.

    We have to stand against Wright, and his white opposite numbers. Barack can’t give that speech in light of the Wright mess– just when we thought his candidacy offered a way out of the tired tropes of the past.

    If your uncle spewed racist attitudes, would you think, ‘poor guy, he’s been scarred by affirmative action’? If a McCain staffer got caught using the ‘n’ word, does McCain get to play the moral-equivalence game? This is, all of it, too close to enabling for my comfort, and doesn’t strike me as progress.

  9. Ben-David

    3/19/2008 at 5:20 pm

    Middle – here’s a thought experiment for you:

    What if Joe Liberman had attended Meir Kahane’s shul for 20 years without objecting to anything Kahane said, asked Kahane to officiate at his marriage, be the sandek at his son’s bris, and featured him on his campaign website as a trusted adviser?

    Then Kahane’s more virulently racist speeches are unearthed by the media, and….. he gives a talk about “the cycle of violence” or “Anti-Semitism” in which he says:

    “I can no more disown Rabbi Kahane than I can my Jewishness”

    So: does the speech undo the long-term association?
    What does the “I can no more disown…” formulation mean – doesn’t it sound like “authentic” Judaism equals Kahanaism in Liberman’s eyes, or at the very least that he is not really condemning it completely?

  10. themiddle

    3/19/2008 at 5:33 pm

    My image is a reaction to ck’s. I wanted a mild but serious alternative to the funkadelic.

    To tackle the moral equivalence issue, I have reread the speech thanks to you and because of Ben David’s first comment in the other discussion. I find that while you are right that he does seem to compare Wright to Ferraro and Wright’s sins to Ferraro’s, which is entirely unfair to her, the speech tackles the topic of race extremely well and, I think, with great honesty. He admits to having sat in that church to hear his pastor, but he also equivocates that the church encompasses a broad population with different ideas. He admits hearing sermons that may not be right, but indicates he did not agree. He speaks to white racism as well and I don’t see how you could expect him not to do so. Wright may be way over the top, but let’s face it, racism is still with us and it would certainly have colored the views of anybody who is over 40 and black in the US.

    This is an extremely complex topic and he tackled it head on. I think people should read the speech carefully and consider that it’s a call for bringing people together, not apart. It seems to me that people are reading into it (if they’ve read it at all, which Ben David, for example, didn’t seem to) what they want to read into it.

    What’s interesting to me is the reaction of many on Jewlicious. If this is how his speech is playing out around the country, he may have just given Hillary a boost.

  11. Steve Stoker

    3/19/2008 at 7:19 pm

    I am a supporter of Barack Obama. I will continue to, perhaps even more so because of his speech. You can say I’m a sucker for so called “drek.” You can claim I’m delusional, and that clearly Hillary Clinton (or John McCain) would be a much better candidate, but I disagree. This is a man stepping up and directly going towards controversy and not giving an excuse, but attempting to put things into his context. He personally knows this man, and I think it’s fair to say we don’t. I’ve known people with controversial positions. Sometimes I’ve been that person, according to some friends. But I can safely say, from my own experience, that I’m glad that regardless of some positions I have, those people care and respect me, and would never dismiss me from their lives because of what I have to say.

    Ben-David brought up the hypothetical comparison of connecting Joe Lieberman and Rabbi Kahane. While my knowledge of this rabbi is minimal, I believe this is only partially accurate. Recently, I’ve thought about this: What if my family member said radical things like that? What if someone who I care about deeply as a friend said that? Could I just leave them behind? Could I simply dismiss someone who says something controversial? No, I honestly can’t. My friends and family are one of the few things that truly surpasses any words. The same goes for the temple I’m from. Regardless of what my Rabbi or anyone in those walls say, my temple is a family to me, regardless of where I am and who they are.

    You want my opinion? Probably not, given the clear disdain for Sen. Obama, but I have respect for any man who can stand in front of a nation and not do the traditional political technique that has been demonstrated even in this primary process.

    Do I want someone who abandons their associates when it becomes inconvenient? Or do I want someone to stand up for their comrades and friends? My decision has been made, and clearly all of yours have been set as well. You may say I’m a fool, but I say I’m a dreamer.

    I apologize for lacks of clarity and disorganization, but honestly I am writing completely from a stream of consciousness.

  12. grandmuffti

    3/19/2008 at 7:41 pm

    Muffti complements B-D’s thought experiment because it focusses the issue nicely. However, he has to take issue with the suggestions about ‘I can no more disown’ – presumably you disown people, not positions and Muffti though Obama was saying he refuses to toss out a preacher who he found very influential on his development in certain ways even after disagreeing (over and over) with him.

    But he does think its striking that McCain was having a mini-love fest with preachers who blamed 9-11 on Americans but no one seems to remember THOSE divisive words. Probably cause at one point McCain had the good sense to call him an agent of intolerance, even if he forgot about that later.

    One thing that MUffti actually finds a bit baffling about this is that people are pointing fingers at Obama and claiming that the so called honest politician is acting dishonestly and in a calculated political manner. The most calculating political thing to do would have been to get up and say ‘I disown this loony tune’ but he didn’t. Probably he would have been hounded but it would have gone away. What he did do was completely unnecessary and a little surprising – maintain an allegiance to a guy who at this point, right or wrong, is a complete and total liability to his camapaign.

    Anyone know why he would do that? Muffti is looking for a sinister angle on this and not doing such a great job. Then again, he is canadian and these presidential politics are somehwat foreign to him.

  13. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 8:14 pm

    Maybe his conscience keeps Barack from cutting Wright loose. Or maybe it’s just not possible to do so credibly, after a 20-year association. Contrast the lightning-fast shedding of Samantha Power last week (to my knowledge, she did not blame 9/11 on America). She was easily disposable.

    I’ll acquit Obama of cynicism or excessive calculation. I have problems with the moral reasoning in his speech, and I find Wright pretty spooky. I’ll accept Obama’s rejection of Wright’s words. But Obama’s running on his biography. Wright gets tossed into the scales in judging that biography.

    You can bet that the Republicans have a lot more on this. DVDs of Wright’s sermons are readily available at his church. (Hillary was too busy spending $1200 on Dunkin Donuts last January, and couldn’t afford copies, apparently.)

  14. grandmuffti

    3/19/2008 at 8:32 pm

    1200$ on dunkin donuts?

  15. themiddle

    3/19/2008 at 8:48 pm

    The press is ridiculous. Who the fuck cares how much her campaign spends on donuts and coffee?

    Muffti, the answer to your question is “politics.” Basically, many of the people pointing fingers at Obama are the same ones who were doing so before this speech.

    I’ll get to Ben David later.

  16. Tom Morrissey

    3/19/2008 at 8:55 pm

    In January alone, Muffti.

  17. montana_urban_legend

    3/19/2008 at 9:23 pm

    Hahahah, Meir Kahane?

    The experiences of black anger and resentment in the U.S. momentarily notwithstanding – as if we should casually wish it away – the great thing about Obama’s speech, I mean, other than its complete honesty (and thanks Middle, for seeing that), is that it exposes every right wing critic of it as a bunch of hypocrites. See the importance of Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham to American politicians for details.

    But seriously, if Bill Clinton is the standard by which you judge intelligent speeches…

    But at least we’re on to seeing the intelligence of honest speeches.

  18. Ben-David

    3/20/2008 at 2:50 am

    Yes we all know he’s a good speaker.

    But bottom line – he associated with this church for 20 years. Despite his own connection to white people.

    (Muffti – were McCain’s associations with fundamentalists that extensive and intimate?)

    How many intermarried couples would continue to attend a synagogue in which the Rabbi’s sermons consistently denigrated “filthy goyim”?

    Fortunately, we don’t really have any Rabbis as filled with blind hatred as Farrakhan, so we can’t really make such a comparison.

    There is growing evidence – from Barack’s autobiography and other sources that knew him back then, from Michelle’s PHD thesis and her own pronouncments – that both Obamas, and Barack in particular (who was abandoned by his African father and raised among whites), cemented their sense of black identity by attending that church and adopting of Black Liberation Theology.

    Sorry – this ain’t something that can be brushed away with a virtuoso speech about race (in which he insults the white grandma who raised him – perhaps her ideas about blacks were focused by his African father’s abandonment of his son…)

    Presidential candidates are judged by their character – there is no practical policy difference between O and Hill.

    This episode says to me that is a mixed up dude whose persona is deeply enmeshed in the more exreme, reactionary sort of identity politics.

    Not exactly the guy who will lead us into a new era of race relations. And not the guy I want leading America.

  19. themiddle

    3/20/2008 at 2:50 am

    Ben David asks the following:

    What if Joe Liberman had attended Meir Kahane’s shul for 20 years without objecting to anything Kahane said, asked Kahane to officiate at his marriage, be the sandek at his son’s bris, and featured him on his campaign website as a trusted adviser?

    Then Kahane’s more virulently racist speeches are unearthed by the media, and….. he gives a talk about “the cycle of violence” or “Anti-Semitism” in which he says:

    “I can no more disown Rabbi Kahane than I can my Jewishness”

    So: does the speech undo the long-term association?
    What does the “I can no more disown…” formulation mean – doesn’t it sound like “authentic” Judaism equals Kahanaism in Liberman’s eyes, or at the very least that he is not really condemning it completely?

    Well now, didn’t you just prove Obama’s point for him? Let’s review some of what Obama said.

    First he explains his connection to Wright, after acknowledging that he’s heard some hard things from Wright over the years, many of which were disagreeable to him:

    “The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.”

    So far, we can find the parallel you suggested. A person may have been personally moved by Kahane early in his life and become devoted to him as a result while perhaps disagreeing with the disagreeable while supporting the agreeable.

    But for Obama, the connection to Wright was actually also a connection to an entire community. Rejection of Wright means rejection of the community.

    Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

    Again, we could stretch a little and find your parallel with Kahane and Wright. This could continue through the next few paragraphs where Obama does not disown Wright and informs us that the man married him and baptized his daughters.

    And then things start to diverge from your comparison.

    We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

    Oh wait a minute. Was Kahane railing against a society where he was part of a minority living in a land dominated by a majority that took away many basic rights and had originally enslaved these people?

    No. Not even close. Not close if your comparison is about America and much farther if you’re talking about the Kahane you mean, which is the one who spoke out in Israel where he lived for many years.

    Slavery, discrimination, segregation, jail, poverty, underserved communities and neighborhoods, projects…

    This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.

    For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

    And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.

    You see where I’m going, Ben David? There is no comparison between Kahane and Wright. Kahane had not suffered the type of discrimination and perceived discrimination that would affect Wright or Obama. How do you come to think that the rage expressed by Kahane is the same as Wright’s? You are comparing a man who was in the majority in his country using his superior position to rail against a group that isn’t in power. That is very different than a pastor who is a member of a racial, visible and visibly different minority expressing outrage at continuing injustice or perceived injustice against that community which had been enslaved and then denied equal civic rights for another hundred years.

    So to respond to your thought experiment, I think it reinforces Obama’s claims that there are things that go on outside the earshot of whites but that speak to the sense of discrimination the black community feels. The sense of historical injustice that continues to this day that stems from a time when the black community was a victim of the majority. No matter how ugly Kahane’s speeches – with Lieberman in his audience – might have gotten, they simply couldn’t emanate from the same source. They would have been unexplainable to any reasonable listener because Kahane and Israel were not victims of Arab enslavement or civic injustice while living in an Arab country called Israel. Kahane was speaking after Israel was in a position of strength. Wright has never seen his community in a position of strength.

  20. Tom Morrissey

    3/20/2008 at 5:07 am

    Middle, black people get a pass on account of slavery, eh? Even Barack and Michelle Obama, wealthy Americans with blue-chip educations? Poor Michelle– imagine having to overcome the disability of a Princeton education. And Barack– poor guy, he edited the Harvard Law Review.

    Middle’s approach returns us to the pre-Sister Souljah days when white liberals held their tongues in the face of African-American dysfunction. Again, Middle– this is progress? Does Farrakhan get a pass? Charles Taylor?

    We could all sit around here in the US comparing historical grievances. Let’s see… how do Jews compare to Latinos? Who’s more entitled to a pass for repellent hate speech– native Americans or Asians? And on and on….

    This is ‘change’, eh? White liberal self-loathing, and refusing to hold individuals responsible for hate-mongering, is more like it. Black or white, an asshole’s an asshole. I thought we’d figured that out.

  21. themiddle

    3/20/2008 at 6:11 am

    Nobody gets a pass and I didn’t give anybody a pass. A pass means that I have excused something. I haven’t excused Wright’s screeds just as I don’t Farrakhan’s. Both have expressed repulsive, hateful and unacceptable views. They are still different at their source than Kahane’s views and circumstances.

    I also don’t pretend that historic grievances don’t exist because they do. Obama was at Harvard? Was that because of affirmative action? His wife was at Princeton? Was she the recipient of affirmative action? That is a real question. Were they?

    The fact I can even ask that question, when I couldn’t and wouldn’t about 99.9% of white Harvard or Princeton graduates is the point. At most, about the white students, I can ask if they’re legacy or the children of profoundly rich or known members of society. Otherwise, my automatic assumption for 95% of them is a 4.0 GPA in high school and some other extraordinary goodies in their records. Not with Barack or Michelle, though. They first get to address whether they’re graduates because of the color of their skin.

    There is a difference in this society and whether I’m liberal, conservative or somewhere in The Middle ™ doesn’t play into the difference between black and white. I believe that’s what Obama is trying to say. Ignoring the difference and its implications on black culture, as Obama quaintly calls barbershops and Sunday morning sermons, is to ignore facts. Even blue-blooded, extremely successful blacks have to face these facts and, in part, their origins.

    The question here is whether you hold Obama responsible for Wright. You can, even after this speech. To some degree, I do, even after the speech. The argument that he’s been there for 20 years listening to these screeds is a strong one. However, this speech was about far more than that and also tries to explain the universe from which both Wright’s screeds and Obama’s silence and presence in that church emanate.

    What I think is incredible and maybe even funny although there is little funny about any of this, is that Obama used to be an ugly duckling politician in the view of many American blacks for the same reasons you mention – his privileged background, his top school diplomas and his polished presentation. Basically, many blacks could not see him as one of them. He played some dirty tricks to get them to see him as one of them in S. Carolina, but this speech proves it was there all along: he’s a black man and this is America.

    At the top rungs, perhaps being black is to his advantage, as Ferraro indelicately put it, but he is viewed as a black man and is now facing the fact that as a black man, he has an additional hurdle to overcome in that he has to explain his “origins.” What he says is black America, as played out in the barbershops, is his America and there isn’t much he can do about it even with a Harvard degree. It’s a good defense, Tom, and it goes much farther than Obama.

    I wonder, as I think about prominent blacks in America, whether there are many who would be able to avoid the situation Obama faces now. I don’t think so. I mean, if I dug into Condi’s church-going, wouldn’t I find some fiery sermons? I just might. If someone like Obama can’t pass muster, I just don’t see who could.

    Oh, and Hillary is the better candidate and was the better candidate before all of this. Just so we’re straight on where I’ve stood all along – as recorded for posterity on this very blog.

  22. Ben-David

    3/20/2008 at 8:59 am

    Middle:
    But for Obama, the connection to Wright was actually also a connection to an entire community. Rejection of Wright means rejection of the community.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    … does this mean that Wright typifies the black community?

    If Joe Lieberman did not agree with Kahane’s more extreme positions, he could leave and affiliate himself with any number of other shuls – excuse, me “communities” full of “dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear” – but lacking the extremist pronouncements.

    Middle – do you really think Obama had no other choices, equally “authentic” in their African American cultural expression?

    If a Joe Liberman stayed with a Kahane-type leader for 20 years, viewing him as a mentor – that would say more about Liberman than it does about the “community”. And it would be a valid strike against him.

    Barak Obama promoted himself as a uniter, a transcender of old hatreds. Now it is seen that he and his wife sought out the most extreme, divisive ideology and made it the basis of their identity.

    Whence flows transcendence from this?

    so when you write:
    The question here is whether you hold Obama responsible for Wright.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    I hold him responsible for his choices.
    I hold him responsible for sticking around.

    Again: the biography-as-history of Obama is that he crosses cultures, and represents the multiple opportunities of polyglot society.

    So he had his pick of directions and mentors.

    After being raised by white people, he chose to cement his black identity by being mentored by Wright – and by radical black Marxists.

    That was HIS choice, he is responsible for it.

    And it sharply contradicts the image he has been projecting until now.

    Much of the rest of your posts retread the tropes of white liberal condescension/excuse making for officially sanctioned victim classes – I get enough of this stuff talking with lefties about the Palis.

    I particularly like this gem of inverted logic:

    I also don’t pretend that historic grievances don’t exist because they do. Obama was at Harvard? Was that because of affirmative action? His wife was at Princeton? Was she the recipient of affirmative action? That is a real question. Were they?

    The fact I can even ask that question, when I couldn’t and wouldn’t about 99.9% of white Harvard or Princeton graduates is the point. At most, about the white students, I can ask if they’re legacy or the children of profoundly rich or known members of society. Otherwise, my automatic assumption for 95% of them is a 4.0 GPA in high school and some other extraordinary goodies in their records. Not with Barack or Michelle, though. They first get to address whether they’re graduates because of the color of their skin.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    So affirmative action is now a grievance in its own right? Oh, the shame of being let in to Harvard just because your skin is black!

    – but wait, that was a *conservative* argument – AGAINST affirmative action – that said we won’t have a truly colorblind society until all are judged solely by ability. And the *conservative* assertion that such programs would perpetuate prejudice was brushed away by race-baiting liberals rushing to feed at the public trough.

    So now that the conservatives were proven right – the lingering suspicions about black credentials CA– USED by PC entitlements just get folded back into the politics of perpetual victimhood.

    Nice try – and typical of the casting-out-of-demons that we see among white liberal supporters of Obama.

    The Rest of Us don’t have to prove our multi-culti bona fides by voting for a black man – or by making excuses for nutty black racism.

  23. grandmuffti

    3/20/2008 at 11:36 am

    Ben-David asked:

    (Muffti – were McCain’s associations with fundamentalists that extensive and intimate?)

    No, but in a way this makes things worse – McCain was at complete odds with these people (‘agents of intolerance’) and then adopted them at a very politically convenient time. So he essentially decided (whiel changing sects suddenly) that these guys were ok people despite a history of saying things that are equally disgusting but OK to the evangelicals and already known about so the media doesn’t rehash it all.

    Part of the goofiness here is resulting from the firm conviction that politicians can’t win without having some Jesus street credentials. So they all go ahead and pick the Representatives of Jesus that they think will help most and ditch them if they stop helping because they are a little crazy or over-zealous. Muffti really thinks it would be best if we just looked on the jesus-stuff as a bi-product of a society only weakly committed (if at all) to separating church and state and focus on real indicators.

    honestly, though, as a straightforward question, do you think Obama hates america? Do you really think he hates white america and wants to take out some sort of revenge on them? Do you think he is deep down an agent of Wright’s and therefore is not to be trusted? DO you think (like Bush sr. and junior and reagan with their nutbar preacher friends) he will be consulting with Wright on policy issues?

    If not, who cares if the Pastor at his church is a nutbar. And who cares if he went to a church headed by somebody who has clearly been on the nut-bar swing more and more in the last bunch of years. He’s just not sure any of this really matters.

    In fairness to the liberals who supported Affirmative Action, they were aware of the conservative argument you point to. and they thought it was a bad result of AA. So far as Muffti can tell, they thought the good results they anticipated coming out of it was worth the bad results that you pointed to. With every policy you get this sort of weighing and balancing.

  24. themiddle

    3/20/2008 at 12:07 pm

    Uh, Ben David, I support Hillary. I don’t think Obama is ready or experienced enough and McCain is going to eat him alive.

    But putting that aside, not to mention my need to prove my “multi-culti bona fides” which must be why I wrote this post anonymously, I noticed you kinda minimized talking about Kahane. That’s a good thing because the comparison was flawed.

    I’m also amused by the contradiction in your attack about Obama’s background. He’s guilty of joining the Marxist, militant black culture but then he’s a product of Harvard and potentially of affirmative action. Oooh, he’s scary.

    I don’t fit your tidy stereotypes of left, right, liberal or conservative in a number of areas. I think affirmative action played a role in bringing up people of color and women into areas where they had been historically excluded. That includes education and careers. It was necessary in its time because breaking through was so difficult in some circles. However, while we still are far from parity when it comes to certain minorities, I do think it has backfired and created a problem for many of the “beneficiaries” of affirmative action. In some ways, it is as if they are “tainted” by the very thing that benefited them. Clarence Thomas is a case in point. His rage stems in part from his knowledge that he may have been able to get into the schools and careers he did without help but nobody, including him, will ever know and because of that any achievement of his will always have an asterisk next to it.

    But you missed my point. My point was not to discuss affirmative action, it was to point out that there remains a difference for a black man in America even today and even with all the advantages. That isn’t inverted logic, that’s what Obama, Thomas and many other successful blacks have to deal with, especially if a top name school is on their resume. The point is, nobody is living in a vacuum and it’s not as if the black community encounters life in this country in the same way whites do. They simply don’t.

    The question is what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in how they approach the bias which society hands them on an ongoing basis. Based on the leading black politicians and leaders that we’ve seen over the years, I suspect that the angry rhetoric Wright provided is something many in the black community have heard in their community.

    Should Obama have stayed? I don’t know because I wasn’t in the church with him. According to this speech, he says there was far more than this angry hate coming from Wright. It was a community for him and Wright was the person who showed him the light with respect to Christianity. I think I can understand why Obama stuck around, just as I believe him when he openly, repeatedly and consistently repudiates the remarks made by his pastor.

    I can see how you, with a political axe to grind, are jumping all over this, however.

  25. Tom Morrissey

    3/20/2008 at 12:32 pm

    Learning Christianity from Wright is like learning to sail from Captain Hazelwood.

    Ben-David is surely right that Obama had other alternatives. Maybe Dick Morris is correct that the public will conclude that Obama was simply building street cred with his South Side constituents in attending Wright’s church, and dismiss the whole issue. I’m not sure I find this rationale for Obama’s attendance very encouraging.

    Btw, did you note Barack’s attempt at further backing and filling yesterday?

    How will you respond if Wright turns out to be (surprise, surprise) a committed, er, anti-Zionist?

  26. Alex

    3/20/2008 at 2:54 pm

    I agree with Tom Morrissey and Ben David, 100%. There is not much left to say that they haven’t. Liberal self-loathing or as I like to call it, “The White Man’s Burden”, is disgusting, as is Barrack’s morally relativistic speech.

    Neither I, nor my ancestors had anything to do with nor owe anything to African Americans. They were busy trying to stay out of gulags and avoiding concentration camps at the same time while African Americans were dealing with slavery and racism. My family came to this country voluntarily with 256 US dollars and three months rent (thanks HIAS!) and didn’t expect a thing from other races, religions, ethnicities, nor from the government. Despite the US’s actions and policies toward Jews and blacks in the past, we’ve come a long way, and I love this country. The day you catch me saying “G-d damn America” and bitching about “rich white WASPs who keep me from my pot o gold”, is the day I make Aliyah to Israel.

    I suggest to Rev Wright that if he hates this country so much (and I don’t believe enacting “change” starts with cursing and alienating the majority), that he move to Liberia. I’m sure he’ll see how well that utopia turned out without any honkeys to stand in the way.

    There is one benefit of not having White Man’s Burden, it’s that I don’t tipee toe around my black friends and call things out the way I see them. And I believe they respect me more for my honesty than for being “Alex, oh yeah, he’s down with the cause”. I’m not, just as I don’t expect them to be down with mine. If I was black, I’d probably vote for Obama. But I’m not, nor do I think he will benefit me nor my people if he gets elected. Sure I have empathy for how blacks were brought here involuntarily and treated throughout American history. But do I feel it’s my duty to even the score? No. Especially if it is detrimental to my and my people’s needs and causes. In today’s America, black and Jewish interests have diverged and I vote that way. When the Wrights, Farakhans, Jacksons, Sharptons, Oprahs, and Obamas are no longer the “black leaders” that the media run to for sound bites, I may change my mind, but as long as they are, you can expect race relations in America to be strained.

  27. themiddle

    3/20/2008 at 3:05 pm

    Tom, Wright is an anti-Zionist as far as I understand. Barack may not be any more friendly to Israel than the Palestinians. So what? That doesn’t change my views on this speech, the topic or on Barack’s performance here. I don’t see what else he could have done and I think what he did, he did well and in the larger picture for this country, important. Even if Hillary deserves the nomination…

  28. Ben-David

    3/21/2008 at 9:10 am

    Middle:
    My point was not to discuss affirmative action, it was to point out that there remains a difference for a black man in America even today and even with all the advantages.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    But you didn’t prove that – maybe because it’s not as real as you think. Unable to find any real evidence of Barak and Michelle geting shafted by whitey, you had to totally recast affirmative action and its effects to fit the received liberal wisdom that “blacks still don’t get an even break”.

    This assertion was the original motivation/excuse for affirmative action, which was supposed to correct the situation (“Once there are black people in the upper echelons where the power is…)

    So now we’ve had Colin Powell and Condi Rice and a generation of increasingly affluent blacks, and huge numbers of white people have shown their willingness to vote for a black presidnetial candidate, and… the assertion is that “blacks STILL don’t get an even break.”

    And the predicted, predictable side effects of affirmative action are twisted to fit that static set-piece of liberal doctrine.

    Liberals never do let reality interfere with their pet theories, eh?

  29. themiddle

    3/21/2008 at 10:00 am

    Ben David, to hear you, one of the most doctrinaire rightists here, talk about reality versus theories is making me laugh just a little today. Thanks.

    So, are you saying blacks get “an even break?”

    I’m just checking to see if you think that we have an equitable society where a black person has the same opportunity as a white person or faces the same odds coming up through adulthood and then college and career as a white person. If you do, that’s okay, I just want to check where you stand.

  30. Alex

    3/21/2008 at 10:46 am

    To BD’s point, there is a great article out there I’m looking for which demonstrates this theory and goes on to point out that liberal Americans with “White Man’s Burden” as I call it, have a feeling that they should always be helping African Americans to right the wrongs, but it becomes quickly apparent that when strong, successful black people emerge that no longer need their help, they’re either cast away, or treated like Condi and Powell. Examples given in this article include how black women were kept from the front lines during both the Women’s Suffrage movement and Feminist Movement and even during the Civil Rights movement where most groups were led by firebrand liberal white mails who felt it was their responsibility to the black people to lead them. Basically it shows that white liberals need to have that feeling of control in their assistance and never truly want to get out of the role of helpers, guides, and leaders. It becomes a viscous cycle when blacks actually achieve power and affluence, yet still have white people trying to speak for them and talk down to them such as “listen, I’m trying to help you. You don’t catch a break. I’m fighting for you. Shut up for a minute. You don’t know what;s good for you.”

    Larry David has a knack for demonstrating this type of behavior in the Black Dentist episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and with the Black family. 🙂

    Middle:

    “I’m just checking to see if you think that we have an equitable society where a black person has the same opportunity as a white person or faces the same odds coming up through adulthood and then college and career as a white person.”

    Of course not! The difference today as compared to the 60’s is that there is no longer an institutionalized government policy, nor institutionalized general societal norms, nor higher learning system which purposefully prevents black people from achieving what their white counterparts have. This is what affirmative action tried to fix and obviously wore out its purposes. The projects as a project failed and people realized that when you give people things for free, they have impetus to work.

    Sure, it’s not a perfect world, black men are incarcerated at alarming numbers, making it hard to raise children who aspire to be successful, productive people, but that’s hard to put the blame on white people in general. I’d venture to say that the majority of issues black people face today are caused by terrible leaders, including Wright, and the liberal white people who still feel guilty about something they have nor had control over. Let go of the instinct to help and lead and guide, and let black people forge their own way without your help.

  31. Alex

    3/21/2008 at 10:47 am

    correction: “they don’t have an impetus to work”

  32. Ben-David

    3/22/2008 at 2:17 pm

    Middle:
    Ben David, to hear you, one of the most doctrinaire rightists here, talk about reality versus theories is making me laugh just a little today.
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    You spent the last 7 years pooh-poohing my “doctrinaire” assertions about Pali ill-will in the Peace/Piece process. The Muddled saber-rattling only started recently.

    Reality versus theories, indeed.

    Further:
    So, are you saying blacks get “an even break?”
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Are you saying that white America still has to make excuses for Harvard grads like Michelle and Barack?

    The audacious response to the Wright affair was an assertion that Wrights’s anger is valid – followed by the explanation that people of O’s generation need not distance themselves from it – in fact, candidate O must embrace Wright’s, uhhh, *colorful rhetoric* to gain “street cred” with the Palestinians – oops, with the black community.

    This from a fellow running for President by offering his personal biography as a parable of transcending old racial labels and divides.

    You don’t see any contradiction here?

    You think someone like that should be president?

    Further:
    I’m just checking to see if you think that we have an equitable society where a black person has the same opportunity as a white person or faces the same odds coming up through adulthood and then college and career as a white person. If you do, that’s okay, I just want to check where you stand.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    “Same opportunity” – yes
    “Same odds” – maybe not, but not because of government policy or widespread racism.

    That is the distinction liberals don’t make – lefties demand equality of results, which is an impossibility to guarantee.

    An equable society provides equality of opportunity – what people do with it is up to them.

    Much of the “bad odds” for blacks can be traced to personal decisions (have a baby out of wedlock before you’re 20 and you WILL live in poverty) and a culture that brands you a traitor or an “oreo” for actually being successful.

    There are more Jewish and Oriental PhDs than Italian or Irish – so? Different cultures, different choices.

    Obama promised progress towards a truly colorblind future. Now he is seen to be in community with the worst sort of old-fashioned grievance theater and race-baiting.

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