Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech

A lot has been said about Obama's speech, and I don't really have much to add. I thought that it was a brilliant speech, whose full impact is only beginning to be felt. It does strike me, however, that one reason that Obama is getting so much heat about the comments of his pastor is that many Americans can't imagine have different political views than their religious leaders. Indeed, for many Americans, religion and politics are inseparable.

I have been a member of many churches in my time, and have heard many a sermon whose political content disturbed me. My pastor at a Lutheran Church in D.C. was far to the left of me and made comments about the military on many occasions that set me on edge. Yet I stayed a member of that congregation. Why? Because this man was otherwise a wise spiritual leader who was instrumental in getting me to come back to church. Because a congregation is about a whole lot of people, and not just the pastor. And because I can accept that my faith and my politics, while linked by values, are not the same.

I think that one of the best observations about the Obama speech was by Marc Ambinder:


In the midst of rejecting his minister's broader critique of American society, Obama endorsed one crucial particular of Jeremiah Wright's political theology: Race is a fact, and it matters. With this speech, Obama effectively distanced himself from the "post-racial" label that many of his supporters have applied to him. Instead of suggesting that America should move beyond racial resentments, he argued that we need to confront them, acknowledge that both black and white resentments are "grounded in legitimate concerns" and respond to them. He was careful to dismiss the possibility that America can "get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy." But the tenor of the speech, and the directness with which it took on Obama's own identity as a mixed-race man whom others code as black, left the impression that Obama believes he carries on his shoulders a great responsibility to help break the "racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years," and expiate what he often calls America's "original sin."

It's worth noting that both Charles Murray, the author of The Bell Curve, and Pat Buchanan, the vessel for white ethnic resentment in the 1990s, found Obama's speech persuasive and even brilliant. Perhaps this is because Obama recognized the reality of white racial consciousness too, and defended working-class whites who oppose affirmative action and worry about crime from the charge of racism. But even as he acknowledged the legitimacy of these resentments, he suggested - in a move that is typical of his campaign - that they should be addressed through liberal means. You may be right to be offended by affirmative action, his rhetoric suggested, but health care is where the real action is. The speech ultimately reads as a call to address the root causes of racial resentments, white and black alike, with government entitlements. Conservatives will ultimately reject that message. Independents may not.


Read it all here.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

I'm with you. I can't imagine being part of a church where my rector was fully on board with my politics -- a parish or church is a great, grand grab bag of many folks and I assume I'll always be pulling to the left...:-)