Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A More Perfect Union

"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.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze — a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns — this too widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

You can read the entire speech on Politico. I highly recommend that you do, especially if you, like I, are not a fanatical supporter of Obama. It genuinely moved me. It might move you, too.

This is the kind of thing I've been hoping to hear a lot more of in this campaign. Not the empty rhetoric I've been hearing, the vague promises of a better future, the deep-rooted anger between Obama supporters and Clinton supporters. Not McCain's whining about how he just really wants to be president so damn bad, the way Bush wanted it, too.

Obama's speech isn't presidential talk. It's the talk of the reasonable and enlightened. It's the talk of a man who understands things for what they are, and possibly for what they could be. This is not a vague promise of future prosperity and change; the man who says this is either cynical beyond words or, which I think may be the case here, really believes it's possible that America can save itself. Obama seems to know who the real enemies are. And even though I still have some problems with his campaign, even though I still don't like his stance on some issues or his connections, at least I'm starting finally to believe that he doesn't want to be president so he can be president. I'm starting finally to believe that he wants to be president because he wants things to be better than they are. Not for a select few, but for everyone.

I'm far too skeptical to say that Obama has my vote based on one speech, no matter how incredibly reasoned and thoughtful it is (and it really is). But I'm idealistic enough to say that this speech finally makes me want to believe that one of the candidates really gets it. That maybe things won't still be the same in 2009.

I hope. For the first time since this campaign started, I hope.


Some Guy said...

I felt the same way as you. I, too, am not a huge Obama supporter and have problems with certain aspects of his platform, but that was a hell of a speech, delivered flawlessly.

mwb said...

No, don't hope!

Hope leads to optimism.

Next thing you know you're blogging about unicorns and care-bears!


It t'was a fine speech. But like many political speeches - that can inspire me but only an actual consistent record of actions and effectiveness is what I judge by.

Gamecreature said...

Obama spoke as if his audience was composed of thinking, reasoning adults. What's not to like about that?

SamuraiFrog said...

Some Guy: It certainly was. I wonder if actually taking a principled stance on an issue of consequence is going to hurt him.

MWB: Indeed. And that's kind of missing here. Throughout the campaign, really.

Gamecreature: It's been so long since we've been given that respect, hasn't it?