Mar 20, 2008

Obama's Speech

Okay, I didn't hear Obama deliver the speech. I read it the morning before he delivered it, and I have to say a few things from the moment I read it:

1) Why did he make that comment about "staunch ally Israel"? Was that really necessary? He took the cheap shot, dismissed the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and kind of bent backwards when he really didn't need to go there. So that was annoying.

2) We've been saying for a long time that Obama had to talk about race in some real way. Running the campaign as a "post-race" candidate just appealed to the neo-cons who have hijacked the idea of a "color-blind society" from Dr. King and turned it into a crusade to ignore the devastating and real impact that race still has in the United States. It's not just about the past, either. It's about how things are right now and how they will be if we keep going the way we're going. Obama running for office was presented by some people - liberals who didn't seem to have a more critical analysis, especially - as a big step towards "healing" the country's wounds and divisions. A lot of people said to me, well of course he believes the same things we do about institutional racism and how far this nation still needs to go. He just can't talk about that right now, to get elected. Just get him in office, and you'll see.

Well that wasn't good enough for me. If other issues were handled that way - we would just work on faith that health care was a priority for Hilary but she wouldn't have to talk about it. Or national security for McCain. But that's not how it works, and just ignoring race, when it was clearly the subtext of the polling analysis and the undercurrent of "what will middle America, the white folk who don't live in cities do when it's time to vote?" didn't seem right. I felt like it was racist in itself to say that talking about race is too "controversial." Maybe Obama wouldn't have gotten this far if he'd had the dialog that his speech is said to have kicked up, a while ago. Maybe this is as soon as he could have had it. I don't know, but I think the way he approached these questions earlier (or didn't) really troubled (and puzzled) me.

3) I don't know, is it just me (I know it's not) - but I found Reverend Wright's sermons - at least the snippets we kept hearing - quite refreshing. It's funny that the media is calling the sermons so problematic. They should do the same about all the anti-gay sermons, literature, talk-show appearances that the mainstream evangelists do all the time. Or even just the simple "nonbelievers will go to hell" litany that immediately makes me feel pretty angry and powerless. But there have been some great pieces about how this may be the first time that white people in the mainstream are actually hearing the tone of what a lot of people feel. Maybe it's the first time that a lot of white folks are actually getting a glimmer of a sense of what it's like to feel powerless against someone speaking so patently against your closely held beliefs. Now imagine what it would be like if you really didn't have the political and race-based power that you have. I don't think you can.

4) Obama's speech surprised me. I didn't expect him to go as straight on with some of the points that he did. I was actually happy that he didn't make light of the anger, of the history that people all remember. That he didn't bring things up to say "all is fine now" but to reinforce his message of hope. I think he could have taken a safer road (though I don't know how revolutionary his speech was - he was towing some lines while saying "hold up, things aren't perfect"), and I'm happy that he didn't. I don't know if he's won away my vote in the general election from Nader/Gonzalez, but he finally showed me that he gets some of what we've been talking about in radical circles of color for a while.

5) That said, some of my friends have just trashed the speech. They hated it, they thought it didn't push the debate at all, they say that it was a purely political speech. I guess I'm not as cynical about it - though I can be pretty brutal in the post-mortem. I think that political operatives and the whole SAFO crowd are a little nutty, and not objective at all, but there's also such a thing as being over-critical without giving people the moment that they kind of deserve. I have to give Obama this moment - it was impressive, he's been getting and will continue to get a lot of slack for whatever he says, and really, the man said I'm not going to back down but I'm not going to yell in your face. I don't know if I'd be able to do that, myself. Because emotions are clearly running high, and he has been able to keep his poise and take the higher road through all of the b.s. It almost seems like he's too good at it - but that's not a fault. We may just be too cynical on the left to acknowledge and accept that.


thecheddarbox said...

Great points.

That damn Israel comment! It is extremely disturbing to me how much Obama has danced for AIPAC, and the man ran on a pro-Palestine platform in the Senate! What a sad refelection on the Israeli influence in Washington.

Aside from that though, I really liked this speech. It's never been in question that the man is a hell of an orator. My concern is more with what he chooses to not say, what he chooses to not confront, his willingness to "play the game" while at the same time preaching "change." I didn't think he was going to address the issue of race at all anymore in this campaign, so it was refreshing to see him be straightforward, to remember why progressives got excited about him to begin with.

I truly believe that Barack Obama has progressive principles. However, I am troubled by his willingness to dance for the lobbyists that rule Washington at this present time (AIPAC, the military, etc.). I am troubled by the state of the two-party duopoly in America that does not allow a Democratic candidate to be a true progressive (ie, Kucinich, McKinney, and even Obama himself), becaues the Democratic Party itself clearly has no intention of being a progressive vehicle.

He is choosing to "talk like them" in order to win. The trouble is, the more you talk like them, the longer that you choose to talk like them, the more talking like them changes you. I truly believe that. I hope Obama can bring about progressive change, lord knows we need it right now, but I am deeply troubled by what I have seen so far.

Rage said...

The trouble is, the more you talk like them, the longer that you choose to talk like them, the more talking like them changes you.

Word. I can't write much to add to what you've said. I just wish I didn't have to feel so cynical. There's nothing bad about hope - I just guess I'm struggling with the transitions between hope, faith, and practice.

thecheddarbox said...

I feel you on how easy it is to fall into cynicism/jadedness.

You ever heard of this guy Joel S. Hirschhorn? He's this old White political theorist who used to work for the government. Anyways, he's not perfect by any means, but he makes some really interesting points about how the two-party duopoly in this country is the source of much of our cynicism, and he presents some practical reforms to fight for that could pave the way for more third parties/independent candidates having a viable shot at winning elections, and thus broadening the spectrum of political thought/debate/choice in this country.

His book is called "Delusional Democracy: How to Fix the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government." If that doesn't work, we just might have to overthrow the government.

Rage said...

I'll check out Hirschhorn. I'm still hopeful, but I guess most of my hope stems from local (and really local) politics, more than anything else. Once people get to Washington, it feels like they can't hear the peoples' voices anymore.

thecheddarbox said...

Your absolutely right in terms of more hope coming from really local politics and organizing.

I also think that independent political parties that truly represent progressives have a real shot at winning local elections in terms of city council seats, etc, if we strategically organize. Once they win local city seats, why not county ones? State ones? I may just be naive, but thinking of starting movements from the local level first and expanding later seems much more "do-able" and understandable to me.

Keep writing and fighting, brother.

Rage said...

I don't think you're being naive, brother. I can't give up on local politics. In this time when some crazies are using the bully pulpit of city/town councils and county supervisors to legislate hate against immigrants, I know there are also places that have passed sanctuary laws and proudly holding themselves out on the other side of the frontline on this issue.

Hearts and minds, one small township/city/county/state/nation at a time. Thanks, Chedda, for the reminder.