Friday, March 14, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Sen. Obama Chooses

On the heels of the Geraldine Ferraro uproar, came the release of some videos yesterday, followed by a deluge of blog posts and comments regarding the words of Sen. Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. No need to post any of the videos here as they've more than made the rounds of network and cable television stations and the internet.

What amazed me was the number of people who vehemently expressed disgust, surprise and fear about the comments therein. I found much truth in the sermon, though I disagree with the characterization of Bill Clinton "riding us dirty like he did Monica Lewinski," since I, like most of the American middle class enjoyed, an economy unparalleled by the last seven years of Shrub (that's what having a "colonized mind"will do for you I guess).

There were Clinton supporters expressing some real schadenfreude at the senator's apparent comeuppance. There were Obama supporters staunchly defending their candidate saying he could not be held accountable for what others say - strange, since they just as rigorously and continuously held Sen. Clinton accountable for Ms. Ferraro's comments. But I digress. There were other Obama supporters who felt and said they had been "hoodwinked and bamboozled" by the senator's talk of "Change We Can Believe In." I came away from all this with a headache and a thought: America REALLY needs to talk openly, honestly and productively about race. If it took Ferraro's and Wright's comments to get us closer to that discussion - so be it.

Let's be clear. Communications between blacks and whites have historically been, and continue to be, difficult. Different cultural styles seem to play the most important role in that great divide. And, even though it is so important to bridge that chasm with acceptance and respect, I'm not so sure that many of us are willing or able to go there. There are obvious differences in the way we communicate. Blacks tend to be emotional when they discuss issues that are extremely important to them. Our voices often become louder and our speech more rapid. This is definitely reminiscent of those Sunday church services, where the minister's voice rises and falls and his sermon is peppered with exclamations and questions that could be felt in the pews. Much like the "call and response" of slavery days, the congregation would invariably throw in more than a few "Amens!" "Praise the Lords!" and "Preach Revs" to let the minister know that they were "feeling him," as my kids would say.

Conversely, when whites engage, it is the exact opposite. They seem to work very hard to deliver their message in calm, deliberate tones presumably to show that they are reasonable, proper and in control. So, when the two groups get together to discuss important issues, the result can be, and often is, miscommunication. The emotion blacks express tends to turn whites off, and the seeming indifference of whites infuriates blacks. What whites deem aggression, blacks call passion. What should have been constructive discourse, degenerates into name-calling or worse. Nothing is accomplished but bitter, hurt feelings and meaningful communication is non-existent.

I think Sen. Obama missed an excellent opportunity to become a real instrument of change that could, and would have guided the much needed dialogue about race in this country. Well, only if all who voted for him really believed in overall change, that is. Maybe if he had not distanced himself with his "change - speak" that so publicly seemed to ignore his associations in the Black community, many whites and others would not have inferred that "change" meant, "We don't have to talk about or deal with issues of racism - institutional or otherwise." Had he been honest about ALL his beliefs, to include the Black empowerment about which Trinity United Church of Christ preaches (definitely not a bad thing even though it frightens the bejeezus out of some white folks), Rev. Wright's sermons would not be the "bombshell" it is today. Granted, he may not have won as many states/delegates as he has, but you never know -- he may have. 

All I'm saying is, you cannot heal wounds whose existence you ignore - and the wounds of racism run deep. It permeates all of our institutions which materially affects the lives of Blacks in this country. He chose to straddle that line (a political strategy maybe?) instead of being 100% honest and now it seems to be exploding in his face - at least right now.

I remember listening to Rev. Sharpton's radio show last year on the day designated for Rev. Wright's daughter's segment. She expressed her concern that Sen. Obama's "handlers" had convinced him it wasn't a good idea to have Rev. Wright fully participate in his announcement ceremony in February on the Old State Capitol steps -- "where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together" (Rev was there, though not in the capacity they all originally thought he would be).

So in some part of the campaign, they saw the presence of Rev. Wright as a liability and tried to contain it.  Guess they could have been right. Last night I was thinking out loud, "He still has an opportunity to be totally honest to the American people, his church and himself , but not by dodging this as a non-issue, because it obviously IS an issue to a lot of people.   It may not be politically expedient, but it may be the only thing that turns this one around." 

Well, this afternoon, with the groundswell of dissenting opinions about what he should or should not do regarding Rev. Wright, Sen. Obama released a statement to CNN and ran this post echoing the statement, in The Huffington Post: On My Faith and My Church." After listening to it on CNN and reading the actual words on The Huffington Post, this quote immediately jumped in my head: "True self is the part of us that does not change when circumstances do." -- Mason Cooley.  Seems he chose the hard place of the presidency over the rock, that was his pastor, mentor and spiritual advisor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.


Clifton said...

A good friend of mine called me at work when he heard Rev. Wright's sermon. He was wondering how Obama would handle it since there was absolutely no way he would denounce his own pastor. Well, so much for that. At this point when the inauguration gets here the only black people invited will be Barak and Michelle. She's gonna be pissed.

I will share this post with my friends.

The First Domino said...

You said:

"Seems he chose the hard place of the presidency over the rock, that was his pastor, mentor and spiritual advisor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright."


But isn't it also possible that Rev. Wright, himself, might have orchestrated Obama's response?

Even delaying what was surely going to be revealed by a rapacious media, so that people would get a chance to know him, before rejecting him?

I believe that he sees Obama as his brightest protégé, someone who will bring back true leadership, and a conscience to the presidency, something he doesn't see there now.

I think he feels that Obama will restore sanity to the Office of the President, and lead this country away from its self-indulgent, and overreaching past.

If that means that he'll have to step aside for now for Obama to achieve that, I believe that he feels it's well worth the sacrifice.

Deb said...

It is absolutely possible the response was orchestrated by Rev. Wright, himself. But I'm just not feeling that for some reason. This is not the first time there's been a dust-up concerning the reverend, so I see no real "delaying what was surely going to be revealed by a rapacious media." Here's a link which includes a letter written by Rev. Wright to the New York Times regarding a story they'd written back in 2007:

I agree, and when you read the reverend's letter you will see, that he does think very highly of the senator. Just doesn't seem that the senator thinks as highly of him since he's, on the advice of his "handlers" kicked him to the curb - twice - for the sake of "political expediency." Now I'm not saying that it was bad advice, if all he wants to do is win. What I am saying is he cannot have it both ways and still be believed.

Sorry, I just think Sen. Obama cares about winning and being the first Black president. And that's a goal, don't get me wrong. I just don't see how that benefits "we the people" if he can't make any positive changes or notably affect our everyday lives and the world view of our country.

I'm not convinced he'll be bringing back any "true leadership, and a conscience to the presidency" - not that I believe there's been that much there for some time. Nor do I believe he'll be restoring any "sanity to the Office of the President" or "leading this country away from its self-indulgent, and overreaching past." That's a tall order for anyone but particularly for someone who's short on experience which I think the senator is. Look at Shrub! Even though he was the governor of TX (and I lived there when he was), he did no governing and it shows. Look where we are! His choice of advisors to shepherd him through this mess was even worse! I don't know, maybe Sen. Obama will have better judgement in that department - but I doubt it.

Given the massive replay of Rev. Wright's sermons though, I think you're right - "he'll have to step aside for now for Obama to achieve that, I believe that he feels it's well worth the sacrifice."

Politicalmom said...

I’m sure there are many of us that don’t agree with every tenant of our faith and/or don’t agree with every word that has come out of pastor’s mouth. With this in mind, it seems rather unreasonable to imply that Obama’s ‘true self’ changed with circumstances, because he denounced the controversial statements made by Rev. Wright.

Senator Obama explained that he didn’t agree with the statements his pastor made and even said “he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor.”---that statement right there should have put an end to this whole controversy.

I think we have to make sure we don’t get distracted by this particular situation and get back on track so they (the candidates) can focus on the issues. I’m sure the Clinton campaign would love it if Obama took this bait and stopped what he was doing to talk about race relations in America, rather than stay focused on his campaign. Sen. Clinton isn’t expected to stop and talk about race relations, McCain isn’t expected to talk about race relations---so let’s not fall for the hype folks. This was a great distraction for the Clinton campaign to remind folks that Obama is a black man and that we as a country still have racial issues.

As a black person in America, I will not feel betrayed by Sen. Obama if he does not stop to talk about race relations right now. I want Obama to focus on the issues that are going to get him into the white house—which is what the other candidates are going to do.

Deb said...

politicalmom....thanks for stopping by. I guess I'm not clearly stating my point.

I agree with you, "there are many of us that don’t agree with every tenant of our faith and/or don’t agree with every word that has come out of pastor’s mouth."

It was not that with which I took issue. My reference to the quote had to do with the senator's willingness to kick the pastor to the curb AND denying he'd ever heard those words out of his mouth in the interest of political expediency.

I feel I am being more than reasonable to suggest that Obama’s ‘true self’ changed with circumstances:

***Circumstance: Wright's comments upset some white folks. Change: Sen. Obama changes how he feels about what Wright's BEEN preaching for 20+ years, denouncing his pastor's words AND says he never even heard them!***

True, "Senator Obama explained that he didn’t agree with the statements his pastor made..." He also said, "And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn. The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation."

Granted, I wasn't sitting in a pew at Trinity, nor have I been privy to any of their personal conversations however, I find it disingenuous at best, and an outright lie at worst, to say he'd never HEARD these sermons given Rev. Wright HAS been his pastor and "spiritual advisor" for more than 20 years.

Sure he said, "...he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor.” And I even believe that. After all, he's surrounded by more than enough political "handlers." But sorry, it doesn't and won't put and end to this whole controversy. Sen. Obama is the only one who can put an end to it - by telling the truth.

I'm not distracted by this particular situation, I am not distracted at all. I am listening, and addressing the childish lie and his failure to stand up for a man who, despite his statements, has been standing up for him for more than 20 years.

I'd like him to focus on issues as well - now that he's had ample time to formulate some - because in the beginning, I wasn't sure what his issues were. He's come a long way since then. I don't know what the Clinton campaign would love Sen Obama to do politicalmom, I'm not a part of her campaign. If you see talking about race relations as "taking the bait," you have a right to your opinion. As do I. I don't see it as "taking the bait," I see it as facing what's broken and has been broken and ignored for a long, long time.

It appears, when it's convenient, the senator from Illinois doesn't see it as "taking the bait" either because he certainly fell right back onto what John Edwards had to say on Day 1 about the problem with race in America in Indiana yesterday AND why he's now poised to give a major speech on race relations tomorrow morning and NOW standing up for Rev. Wright - says CNN right now. But then we all know what a great orator he is after having time to sit down and figure out a strategy.

"Sen. Clinton isn’t expected to stop and talk about race relations, McCain isn’t expected to talk about race relations" Well, you got me there don't you? I'll give you one guess why they neither have to nor are expected to. As I said, I prefer, at this point, the Devil I know.

"This was a great distraction for the Clinton campaign..." Did it ever occur to you that this just may have been a preemptive strike by the Republicans? I've not heard her camp comment on any of this to date - and if she's smart, they won't. But I've sure heard plenty Republicans weigh in on the subject.

" remind folks that Obama is a black man..." Folks hardly need be reminded that Obama is a Black man, melanin has seen to that.

"...and that we as a country still have racial issues." And seeing as it's true, you think that's a bad thing?

"As a black person in America, I will not feel betrayed by Sen. Obama if he does not stop to talk about race relations right now." I see - his use of MLK's words "If not now, when..." only applies to getting elected.

As a Black woman in America, raised in the Deep South, I expect him to address race relations and how speak to how he, with all his consensus-building and charisma, can begin to work on really leveling the playing field. Notice I didn't say "fix" the playing field? No one person can do that, but if he's in that seat, he certainly can start wielding that institutional level.

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