Friday, June 06, 2008

Rocky BalObama

It's Time for Another Obama Race Speech

Now what? How does Barack Obama, fresh from claiming the Democratic nomination, put Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger behind him, before they ignite yet again and blow up his general election campaign?

How does he pre-empt advertising images, sure to be circulated by his opponents, that link him to outrageous racial rhetoric and fears that he is open to the most radical left-wing ideas – including using the power of the White House to exact racial vengeance?

There is no doubt that Rev. Wright's inflammatory racial rants hurt Sen. Obama badly during the primaries. His once-ascendant popularity with white men faded in a flash after Rev. Wright emerged as a walking contradiction to the candidate's claim to be above the old racial divides. Even this week, at Mr. Obama's moment of historic triumph, a quarter of voters in Montana and a third of voters in South Dakota said the senator's 20 years of membership at Trinity United Church – the scene of racial rants by Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger – was an important issue for them. In both states, more than half of these voters voted against him.

Since Rev. Wright became an issue in March, the senator's favorability rating, according to a Pew poll last week, has dropped eight percentage points. The sharpest slippage was among white women who explained that their problem with Mr. Obama has to do with "personal attributes," more so than his race. The major personal attribute unveiled during that time was the senator's close relationship to Rev. Wright and the likes of Father Pfleger. Now, with the general election contest beginning, there will be more white voters, including the all-important swing voters.

They'll have to decide whether they are willing to see beyond race and invest their trust in the young, biracial senator who seeks to be their president.

Mr. Obama's strategies for dealing with the racial demagogues in his past have failed. The first strategy for dealing with Rev. Wright's proclamations – including damning America and offering baseless charges that the government was spreading AIDS among black people – was to say he was absent from church. Then Mr. Obama equated Rev. Wright with a crazy uncle to be found in every family. Then he asked for a pass, saying that everyone has heard their pastor, priest or rabbi make statements they don't agree with.

When this didn't work, the senator made a major political speech on race relations – a subject he'd avoided, to prevent being boxed in as the "black" candidate. The Philadelphia speech in March was most notable for what it did not do. Mr. Obama did not condemn Rev. Wright as a racial provocateur. Instead, he made it a point of virtue to stand by his minister of 20 years. He said Rev. Wright was a member of an older generation of black people still stung by their years of humiliation under segregation.

Incredibly, the speech was celebrated by supporters and most of the press. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, said it would "go down as one of the great, magnificent and moving speeches in the American political tradition." The New York Times editorialized that "Mr. Obama's eloquent speech should end the debate over his ties to Mr. Wright since there is nothing to suggest that he would carry religion into government."

Well, that speech didn't end the controversy, either – because Mr. Obama never spoke honestly about Rev. Wright's sermons as destructive and racist. Instead he offered soaring talk about the nation, as a matter of faith in God and one another, needing to "move beyond old racial wounds." His only criticism of Rev. Wright was to chide him for a "profound mistake," of speaking "as if no progress had been made" on race.

And his poor judgment in remaining a member of Rev. Wright's church? Mr. Obama skated by with appeals for other people to have serious conversations about race. Instead of turning his fire on racial pandering in his own church, he criticized those who would "make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with [Rev. Wright's] most offensive words."

Allies rallied to the senator's side, arguing that the controversy was really all the fault of TV news programs that played the reverend's bellicose "sound bites" too often and out of context. But in a matter of weeks, Rev. Wright went on another rant, this time at the National Press Club in Washington. Only then did Mr. Obama condemn him for racially offensive jeremiads. And last week, Father Pfleger – with his mocking of Sen. Clinton and claims that whites all over America are crying because they feel a black man has stolen the nomination – has renewed the bitterness. His rant has also called a new round of attention to Mr. Obama's long ties to unsavory racial characters both inside and outside the church. In response, the senator has resigned from the church.

He has to do more.

The heart of Mr. Obama's problem is that he risks being defined by Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger. Most American voters know him only as a fresh face with an Ivy League education, an outstanding credential – editor of the Harvard Law Review – an exciting speaker, and a man who stands for much-desired change. Beyond that he is a political mystery with a thin legislative record. But when voters look at his past for clues to the core of his character, they find religious leaders calling for God to damn America and concluding that America is the greatest sin against God.

To deal with this controversy effectively, Mr. Obama needs to give another speech. This time he has to admit to sins of using race for political expediency – by knowingly buying into divisive, mean messages being delivered from the pulpit. He has to say that, as a biracial young man with no community roots, attaching himself to Rev. Wright and the Trinity congregation was a shortcut to move up the ladder in the Chicago political scene. He has to call race-baiting what it is, whether it comes from a pulpit or calls itself progressive politics. And he has to challenge his supporters, especially his black base, to be honest about real problems at the heart of today's racial divide – including out-of-wedlock births, crime, drugs and a culture that devalues education while glorifying the gangster life.

Mr. Obama also has to raise the bar for how political criticism is handled in his camp. Step one is to acknowledge that not every critic is a racist. His very liberal record and his limited experience, like his association with Rev. Wright, is a fact, not the work of white racists. Just as he calls for the GOP not to engage in the politics of fear over terrorism, Mr. Obama needs to declare that he will refrain from playing the racial victim, because he understands such tactics will paralyze political debate and damage race relations.

Only by admitting to his own sins can Mr. Obama credibly claim that he has seen the promise of our country, in which Americans of all colors work together. Only then can he convince dubious white voters that he is ready to move beyond racial antagonism and be their president.

7 Comments:

Blogger Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

He better keep the gloves on cause mcain stick and moves. Maybe the rope a dope, what says u

11:32 AM  
Blogger shine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:26 PM  
Blogger shine said...

"unsavory racial characters..."

what does that mean? was Pfleger exhibiting white behavior? why are you so angry? calm down and give us more.

9:14 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

shine, your comment "...was Pfleger exhibiting white behavior?..." doesn't make any sense.

If you think Pfleger was exhibiting white behavior, then why would you express the thought that his behavior is "unsavory" when his life has been dedicated to helping blacks?

Do you think a white man who helps blacks is "unsavory"?

What is your definition for "white behavior"?

3:52 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

shine,

Unsavroy racial characters are people like Reverend Wright, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, and Father Pfleger.

Obama has been too close to all of them.

3:56 PM  
Blogger shine said...

There is no logic to your rantings. You have used the term "black behavior" before. So, I sarcastically challenged you to tell me more about "white behavior" in a previous "conversation"--here, to make it easier for you--here is the text of that conversation for your readers to see

slappz: "If you have any questions about white behavior or any aspect of the white world, I will do my best to answer it. There are plenty of topics, but, in short, if the subject of blacks and black America arises, whites will express concerns with crime, the cost of social programs and education. No topic is avoided, but overall, it's my observation that whites spend a lot less time thinking about blacks than a reader of black blogs would estimate"

shine: "Let me first start by saying that I was employing sarcasm in referring to "white behavior." You start with the false and misguided assumption that there is such a thing. White people, and black people for that matter, are not monoliths. Thanks for your offer, but I don't need you to explain "white behavior" to me because I have may close white friends, live in a predominately white neighborhood and attend a predominately white school. There is no "white behavior"--my friends and classmates offer vastly different viewpoints and perspectives in American life. Maybe you should email them. It is feeble-minded to attempt to consolidate thought in accord with skin color. In the future I would hope that you would attempt to see through societal constructions of blackness and whiteness. I know, it's arduous and takes some mental dexterity, but it is well worth it. If you really want to talk about behaviors--a class-based explication might be more useful to you." (BTW-you never responded)

Since you believe that there is such a thing as "black behavior" and "white behavior"--I asked you to characterize Pfleger's behavior. You obviously don't pick up on sarcasm or wit--it's pretty pointless for me to continue here. You are not looking for a real conversation. You are of the worst kind--a pretender.

11:57 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

shine, you're free to live in the alternative reality of your choice. But there are distinctions and differences between asian, white, black and hispanic behaviors.

Some of the differences don't matter -- like taste in music, art, food, clothes, etc.

But some matter a lot. Like illegitimacy, fatherlessness, substance abuse, low academic performance and crime.

For what it's worth, Obama mentioned fatherlessness yesterday -- Father's Day.

As for Father Pfleger, if you want my assessment of his "white behavior" it's this: patronizing.

However, the most common aspect of "white behavior" is moving. Moving away from cities to suburban areas and leaving behind the urban problems.

I have no idea what's ahead for your white friends and classmates. But I will bet you a dollar that most of them will move to relatively white areas when they have kids. If they stay in cities after their kids are born, many will move out after the kids enter school -- unless they send their kids to private schools. But sending kids to private school in most cities segregates them by race.

Anyway, life on college campuses or at graduate schools is a period of suspended animation for many aspects of life. It's a rarified atmosphere that allows students to believe a lot that is not true. Life can be idealized on campus.

But, like I said, when Real Life arrives, the vast majority of whites put family first and move away from the city to relatively homogeneous surroundings.

I live in Brooklyn, NY, in a corner of the Flatbush section. My kids go to public school. I was born in New York City and I have lived in several places around the country. But I returned to NY City as an adult. Furthermore, I've spent time in many New York City public and private schools.

Here's a few facts. There are about 1.1 million kids in the New York City Public School system. About 35% are black, 35% hispanic, 14% asian, 14% white, and 2% other.

But NY City is about 45% white and 8% asian. Hence, there are some evident imbalances.

The public school system offers "gifted programs" for its better students. These programs enroll kids from kindergarten through Junior High School.

High school brings some changes. There are 5 special high schools that are open to ANYONE who scores high enough on an Entrance Exam.

Almost 50% of the kids accepted at these schools are asian. About 40% are white. That leaves 10% to fill the remaining seats.

Why does this imbalance exist? For a lot of reasons. Those reasons reflect differences in black, white and asian behavior, despite your denials.

Lastly, your belief that I am not aware of sarcasm or wit was untested. There was no wit or sarcasm in your statements, and your comments further demonstrated blindness to actual problems.

2:06 PM  

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