Comments Posted By Neil McKenna
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OBAMA'S SPEECH A CALL FOR A VICTIMHOOD COALITION

I cannot resist adding an addendum to my earlier post regarding Moran's mischaracterization of Obama's remarks, here as concerns the charge that Obama is "telling us we’re a bunch of redneck racists everytime they get offended. Again, quoting what he actually said:

"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."

As I said before, somehow I have missed the part where Obama characterized anyone as "redneck racists." To the contrary, he would actually seem to be saying not only that whites need to try to understand where black anger is coming from, but also that we blacks need to try to understand where white people have legitimate concerns with our concerns.

Comment Posted By Neil McKenna On 19.03.2008 @ 02:15

As someone who is favorably disposed toward Senator Obama's candidacy, I initially thought that he made a mistake in not approaching the current controversy over Jeremiah Wright / Louis Farrakan / Bill Ayers / whomever-is-next-in-the-we-can't-attack-him-so-let's-tie-him-to-someone-we-can-attack might be, in the same way that Republicans have over the years: change the subject. I thought that he should spin the issue toward the question of whether it is fair or appropriate to call into question anyone's views not by examining those views, but rather the words and views of others with whom he might be associated. (The term "guilt by association" comes to mind.) I was wrong.

That was the most significant speech on race that has been given in this country since "I Have a Dream." Whether he wins or loses, he said things that have needed to be said for years, and that we as a nation need to be talking about. Yet, I sit here and watch Fox News desperately trying to keep the focus on whether or not the speech reflects poor judgment on Obama's part in not disassociating himself from Wright's church, whether Wright reflects Obama's secret views, whether the speech was merely cynical political maneuvering. And now here (on this site), I find outright mischaracterizations of what he said. For example:

"More than at any other time in this campaign, Obama forcefully and without qualification endorsed across the board government intervention in every aspect of the lives of American citizens."

I would challenge the author to post the excerpts from the speech where Obama did any such thing.

Another example:

"Not once did Obama blame government policies for the problems of African Americans . . . ."

Not true. Quoting Obama's speech, "A lack of economic opportunity among black men and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family contributed to the erosion of black families, A PROBLEM THAT WELFARE POLICIES FOR MANY YEARS MAY HAVE WORSENED." (emphasis added)

A further example:

"Obama spent a considerable amount of time trying to explain that the rage expressed by Wright publicly is echoed in private by most blacks, and that whites cannot therefore understand how important it is for Wright to be allowed to spew his hatred to give voice to that anger."

Same challenge as above: post the portion of the speech where Obama said that it is important for Wright to be allowed to spew his hatred. What he said is that Wright's anger comes from somewhere, and that a societal examination of the reasons for that anger is the first step along the path of eliminating it. But no, let's not do that. Let's just keep focusing on diversionary issues such as whether or not Obama should have redirected his focus away from addressing the REAL problems that confront this country and instead spend his very valuable time condemning and dissassociating himself from someone who is only giving voice to the anger and frustration that exists in too much of the black community. Again, quoting Obama's speech,

"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 within the African-American community in our condition, it 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.

. . . .

"We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.

. . . .

We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction, and then another one, and then another one. And nothing will change."

Now returning again to the mischaracterizations of what Obama said,

"[A] closer examination of what he was actually saying shows that Obama believes that the burden of improving race relations is primarily on whites."

Same challenge as above: post the portion of his remarks that even remotely suggest that.

"Obama is telling whites that we dismiss slavery and Jim Crow and 300 years of discrimination and oppression by not granting Blacks the singular honor of telling us we’re a bunch of redneck racists everytime they get offended."

He did no such thing. Again quoting Obama's speech,

"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 handed them anything, they built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away. And 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 prejudice, resentment builds over time."

I'm sorry, but somehow I missed the part where he called, or even suggested, that whites who feel this way are "redneck racists."

In closing, let me say that I spent St. Patrick's Day with a leader in the Illinois Republican Party. As we talked, I was struck by how much we agreed upon, although I have to confess that I probably share more conservative views than he shares views that might be characterized as liberal. Implicit in Obama's message is that people like my Republican friend and I should should stop demonizing one another and instead begin coming together to address the concerns that we have in common. But keeping the artificial division within this country going - keeping the focus of our attention on superficial issues such as what was said by some former leader in the black community (Wright has in fact retired from his pastorship at Obama church) whose time has come and gone, rather than seizing upon the leadership of someone whose rhetoric is so very different than that of Jesse Jackson and his ilk (when was the last time you heard a black political figure - and here, I'm not referring to "the usual suspects" in the person of black conservatives who have absolutely no legitimacy within the black community - calling into question the ultimate benefit of the welfare state for black people?) seems to be the goal of commentators such as Mr. Moran. And it may work.

For me, however, Obama's speech pushed me off the fence. As a black man who has had a similar experience to Obama's - for him it was having white relatives; for me it was having my best friend for 30 years be white (Jewish, in fact) - I know that his calls to accountability for our own contributions to the problems of the black community, and his calls for us to understand that there is more that unites all Americans than divides us, are long overdue.

My misgivings about Obama have primarily concerned his ability to win. Now, I no longer give a damn whether he can win or not. We have to try and elect someone who can bring us together, rather than continuing to divide us as Mr. Moran and similar conservative commentators would rather do.

His speech convinced me that, at long last, a different kind of leader has arrived: not a black leader, but a leader (of all people) who is black. This man is showing the potential of being a great man; along the lines of King, DuBois and Mandela; along the lines of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Regardless of whether this great man can actually be elected, we have to try.

Comment Posted By Neil McKenna On 19.03.2008 @ 01:44


 


 


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