Thursday, March 27, 2008

Obama Has Lost His Post-Racial Credibility

Am I being unfair to Barack Obama over the Philadelphia speech? He hasn't complained to me. Nonetheless, when I saw Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times, "With a Powerful Speech, Obama Offers a Challenge" (March 25, 2008), I saw a good opportunity for being corrected if I was being too crusty and partisan. Make me admire the speech and the man! I'm open to it. Really, I am.

Herbert sees the speech fundamentally as a call to stop the racial madness and move us toward, in Obama's words, "a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." Obama stated the challenge this way: We have a choice. We can accept politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism," or "we can come together and say, 'Not this time.' This time, we want to talk about..." and then he goes on to give the bleak picture of America that he always does. According to Herbert: "The great challenges this country continues to face...cannot be solved, Mr. Obama said, in an environment riven by divisiveness and hostility."

Well who can disagree with that? My problem is with the fellow speaking these words. He has no credibility with me. This is why.

What Herbert calls "an environment riven by divisiveness and hostility" is where Barack Obama has received his spiritual formation, which at Trinity United Church of Christ is indistinguishable from political training because their religion is a political religion and their gospel is a merely social gospel. Obama-skeptics continue to pick apart the speech, not out of racial animus, but out of suspicion that Obama is putting one over on us. He's a politician. There's a lot of power at stake. We've had bad experiences with politicians. Forgive me.

Herbert quotes from the 1968 speech Robert Kennedy gave from the back of a flatbed truck when he broke the news of Martin Luther King Jr's death to a largely black audience, and Herbert tries to use Kennedy's noble and stirring words to shame anyone who finds fault with Obama's speech instead of heeding the call to march with the candidate into a brave new post-racial world.

In this difficult time for the United Sates, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black ... you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

Yet, what Kennedy warns his audience against--bitterness, hatred, polarization--is precisely what Obama's pastor and his church are all about, and Obama has chosen to remain in association with them all these years. It was only when he became serious about a presidential run that Obama agreed with Wright that they would have to put some distance between themselves. ("A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith," New York Times, April 30 2007.)

The issue is not Barack Obama's decision this month not to break with his beloved mentor. That is what he defended in his speech. The issue is his decision of the last 20 years, a decision he made 20 years ago and has been affirming ever since, to embrace Jeremiah Wright's teachings and worldview. No one so affiliated and so trained is in a position to lead us in bridging what he calls the "chasm of misunderstanding."

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