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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The audacity to hope

We will know in five weeks or so whether Barack Obama's speech about race and American society was an electoral winner. But my early sense is the address is the clearest effort yet to deal with the nagging issue that is never far from the center of our lives.

And not to belittle the unique and awful circumstances of the African-American experience of slavery and legalized discrimination, the sentiments at the core of Obama's speech are probably known in some form or another to a variety of people, be they Hispanic, Asian, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, to name just a few.

That makes it all the more imperative we address these ills now -- when America's moral standing in the world is weighted down by some of the very real, if overstated complaints of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Torture is very real.

Tying Obama to the words of his pastor strikes me as wholly unfair. The Illinois senator would be more on the line if he had uttered those thoughts himself. The First Amendment protects speech, but you don't have to agree with inflammatory rhetoric and Obama has condemned the words.

And I have real problems with the continued placement of religion front and center in American politics. In this campaign alone, we've gone from Mitt Romney's Mormonism to whisper campaigns about Obama being a Muslim to attacking him for the words of his Protestant pastor. The First Amendment also protects those religions -- and grants the rest of us the right to our own beliefs without the imposition of someone else's values.

That said, these are the facts of political life in America in 2008 -- and I think Obama did an excellent job in addressing the problems he (and we) face.

His condemnation of Wright's words was unequivocal. His explanation of the reality was too:

“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.”

But what was most impressive is how Obama managed to condemn the words without condemning the man, a central part of most religions that our partisan zealots often ignore. And naturally, Obama's words reflect his unique viewpoint as the son of a black man and white woman.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother,” he said, “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.”
We are all imperfect human beings. What a concept.

Obama's candidacy has sparked a new enthusiasm in the United States and around the world, the hope that this country can reclaim the mantle of authority and values leader that has been trampled on during the last seven years.

Let's hope that enthusiasm isn't squashed by the words of someone whose name is not on the ballot and is just another imperfect human being.

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