Posts filed under ‘Prez ’08’

Is he going to steer our convoy in a different direction?

June 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

making history

Imagine my surprise. I’m sitting on my bed, at the Hotel Daibani in Aden, watching al Jazeera, and I hear, through the rapid jumble of Arabic words, ‘St. Paul, Minnesota’.

St. Paul. Al Jazeera. Did another bridge collapse? A voice of a correspondent crackled across a cell phone. Barack Obamaand Hillary Clinton…elections…votes…South Dakota…count…the economy…Obama…a speech.

Hot scoop: Obama gives a speech!

Why was this speech special? Why was an al Jazeera correspondent reporting from Keillor country? And what the hell was she talking about?

From what I could gather, the reporter was embedded in Obama’s convoy, which had brazenly entered the politically schizophrenic state, and set up camp at the Excel Center. It was a symbolic fort (also the home of the NHL’sMinnesota Wild) where Obama’s battle-hardened antagonist would soon accept the other party’s nomination.

The embedded journalist (or embed as we in the industry like to call it) was reporting Obama’s seeming victory over Clinton’s surprisingly resilient and resourceful insurgency. Obama’s speech sounded as if it might be premature. There were a few dead-enders who couldn’t quite accept our liberation from decades of tyrannical elected officials.

I laid down , trying to put the Arabic words together in my head. Obama, Hillary…speeches, change, freedom. I drifted towards another battle, closer to my room, which had seemed to vanish from the headlines even though it had caused of unimaginable human suffering.

Mission Accomplished?

The next day was quiet. The classes went smoothly, and I didn’t get stuck explaining some obscure English rule that no American has ever followed.

After my second class, one of my favorite students lingered. He frequently stayed after class, and we spent a lot of time talking about verb tenses and shoulds and coulds and runon sentences. He had seen the same al-Jazeera story.

‘It doesnt matter,’ he said, with a wry grin. ‘They…ah…they don’t care who win. Macain. Clinton. No problem. Obama. Ok. One wins and the other laughs. Its ok. They think same…ahhh…Palestine, Iraq, war. They all support…’ and he put his palms up as if there was nothing that could be done.

I said that I had hope for Obama, that he would change things. What things? Things. Then I asked him to write the Arabic word for change on the board.

التغيير

‘He say ‘change, change’, but no.’

He said goodbye and left. 

I want to believe in change like I want to believe in hope. I want to believe in Obama, and so I’ll vote for him. Hopefully, he’ll win, and make history, as they say. But if he can’t steer our convoy away from the disastrous course it is taking in this region, how much will his achievements matter?

 

June 4, 2008 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Obama’s speech (the one on race)

obama.png 

  

 Barack Obama’s rhetoric surely soars. He’s eloquent and folksy, idealistic and…idealistic. Many of us not-so-young-youngsters, who are stumbling through the third, or up to the fourth decade of our lives, have equated Obama with a break from politics as they are, politics as usuaaaal. His sprawling legions of devoted followers, campaigners, volunteers, and cheerleaders are barely able to breathe while they heap praise on this singular person, this African-American, who will change the gears and oil the joints of this rusty, white American political machine.

Obama’s campaign has hitherto been able to use race as part of his message of hope quietly, but it has always been part of campaign. His race was in the background, but helped his ascendency by energizing those of us who desperately want to believe that we live in a society that can elect a African–or Latino or Jewish or Korean or Albanian or Hindu or Chilean or Comanche or Arab or…–American president.

We want to believe this because the corrosive effects of racism are on display, in every corner of our waking lives, our books, magazines, newspapers, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, sitcoms, crime dramas, news reports, talk shows, and the cinema. There is a certain race fatigue among us, I think, mingled in with or brushing up against a hope that America will move into a direction of ethnic neutrality, or perhaps a more tolerant, coexisting, candy-colored collectivity.

Obama has spread his arms towards the youth, and with an intoxicatingly bright  message, he has discovered a young yearning hitherto buried in a solid bedrock of cynicism and apathy. His campaign promises include the restoration of America’s international prestige, bringing jobs to depressed areas (which seem to be growing quickly), changing NAFTA, insuring the uninsured, bringing troops out of Iraq, bringing  peace into Israelistine, making the world greener, pressuring Ahmadinejad, coaxing Assad, rooting out Bin Laden in Waziristan, and fixing the great racial divide that has plagued America since its inception. And still have some time left over to breathe, eat, drink, (smoke?) and raise his young children.

Now that is surely audacious.

Obama is like all other politicians in one very predictable (and probably necessary) way: he is a serial promiser. But can he deliver?

Come on, big media, ask him! How, Obama? How?

Nah. At some point in the 24 hour news cycle, it was decided that Obama’s connection to Reverend Jeremiah Wright was more important than his ability to deliver. A shroud of doubt was cast over his candidacy, by Hillary’s battalion in lock step with Rush Limbaugh’s legions (but not John McCain, because he is color blind when questioning Democrats’ patriotism).

This sudden anxiety only deepened a fissure already opened by the crusading talk radio heads, and their more attractive (and subtler) television friends, when they decided to focus on Obama’s middle name. Not only is it a Muslim middle name, but it is that Muslim middle name. Oh, and that picture of him in the robes!!!

The second sudden anxiety, over Obama’s relationship with Wright, has come to Obama at an awkward moment. Having recently lost Texas and Ohio, he saw his streak of 11 (or was it 12) state caucus and primaries come to an end. Clinton has come back and the fact that her chances of beating Obama in a delegate count are quite improbable hasn’t stopped her. Rather, she’d prefer if Obama just forgot his meteoric rise in popularity and delegates, forgo all of the support he’s built up in the grassroots and in those smoky back rooms, and just take 2nd place like a man.

Why the press waited until now to make this an issue (Hillary on SNL?) is beside the point. They did and Obama had to answer, lest he lose even an inch of that mile he had taken from the overwhelmingly white (and male) political culture. The clanging of pundits jaws and the apparent wringing of our body politic’s hands forced the Junior Senator from Illinois-who some subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) remind us is married to a woman who only recently became “proud of America”-to do what he absolutely does best: give a speech about the condition of America, and why we should come together. 

It was necessary that Obama address race, a subject he has been reluctant to discuss so far. It is one of the bigger elephants in our nation’s living room. Racial divisiveness and inequality exist today, in implicit and explicit ways. Draconian sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, high unemployment rates. And a concentration of violence in largely black neighborhoods (Chris Rock once said that the most dangerous block in any American city was Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Unfortunately, many people, especially public figures, act and speak as if we live in a society that is post-racism.

Commentators, especially those aligned with Clinton or the “right” decided that [white] America deserved an explanation for Obama’s relationship with the raucous reverend. This is politics as usuaaal defined: a profoundly important issue, like race, used to rationalize a pithy paranoia about a person or event somehow connected to the candidate. By using this, um, card, Clinton’s people and the media have put the emphasis not on race, or racial inequality, but on the dynamics of Obama’s relationship to the reverend.

He started simply, with “Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street…” He was giving the speech in Philadelphia. Then he dived right into a candid discussion of racial problems hitherto only hinted at by our public officials. His words were uttered with conviction and humility. He affirmed the greatest part of the United States, its insanely diverse population, and eloquently tied the progress of the U.S. to a rethinking of the racial problems of our republic.

He addressed the legacy of racial injustice and its lingering effects on black communities:
That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. 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.

He acknowledged white angst, which so many white media types and politicians  have exploited over the years:
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… 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.
 
He addressed the reverend’s controversial remarks:
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.
 
Most importantly, however, he reminded us that the problems facing our nation effected us all:
This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.

This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
 

It would have been quite easy to throw the reverend under the bus. Instead, he leveled with us. He treated the American people respectfully, and explained himself eloquently.

No matter. For those who were clamoring the loudest, Obama’s nuanced refreshingly blunt and seemingly honest explanation of his relationship with the reverend was much to, well, nuanced and honest. He didn’t reject the reverend, they clamored. He didn’t condemn the reverend!!

Of course, those on the ‘right’ were nonplussed. Writing in the New York Post and for the National Review online, Rich Lowry complained that despite his criticisms of the reverend, Obama defended him in “exceptionally high-end sophistry.” Even while acknowledging Obama’s honest insights into the plague of racism, Lowry dismissed Obama’s public persona as “always himself in his glorious personhood, the salve to the country’s ills.”

Juan Williams, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Eyes on The Prize, also chided the senator for not condemning the pastor. Williams told Fox News (one of his employers), that he was disappointed Obama didn’t renounce the reverend. He concluded with saying Obama had been “severely damaged” by his relationship to the reverend.

The reverend said a lot of things that are anathema to how many Americans of all colors see their country. He also said a lot of things that many people of all races secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, believe about our government.

Other public religious figures, steeped in politics, have uttered (or vociferated) similarly controversial opinions on the state of the union and its problems. The late televangelist Jerry Falwell famously said of 9/11:
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.

His friend, Pat Robertson, another televangelist with deep ties to conservative politicians, concurred. He has also said some things that some of his followers might not have liked. Last year, mediamatters.org reported that on the February 7th, 2007, broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson raised some eyebrows when he said that “people who have received too much plastic surgery ‘got the eyes like they’re Oriental’ while he put his fingers up to the side of his face.”

There are countless examples of religious leaders saying things that are hurtful, racist, or just plain dumb. The problem is that there are plenty of people in the crowds that agree.

People should be concerned about Wrights comments, but no more or no less so than they should be concerned with some of the odious things that come out of the mouths of priests, rabbis, mullahs, and other religious leaders.

What people should be wondering about Obama is not his ties to the reverend. They should be wondering if he can deliver on his promises of hope and reconciliation. There is still no substantial proof that he can do so, but after hearing this speech, I certainly hope that he gets a chance to try.

March 26, 2008 at 3:14 pm 2 comments


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