March 24, 2008

Last Week: I took last week off, for the most part. Every year, I take a break during the four days that comprise the first two rounds of the NCAA Tourney, and this year, I had two major deadlines at work that had to be completed at the beginning of the week, so no blogging got done. That meant perhaps the most discussed speech by an American politician in my lifetime was not covered on this blog, and my two cents weren't added to the national debate. I suck.

Looking back, it's clear The Speech was an unqualified benefit to Obama's candidacy, at least in the short term. After a campaign where he didn't seem to be doing much to challenge the American voter, beyond the fact that his very existence is a "challenge" to the majority, and where his strategy seems to be mainly focused on running out the clock and winning on points, Thomas Dewey-style, in his battle for the nomination, for him to give a speech on the Great National Issue which exposed him on many different levels to future attacks was ballsy. The momentum in favor of Hillary Clinton which was manifesting itself in sizable leads in Pennsylvania appears to have waned. He is the presumptive nominee again.

The Speech also accomplished another important step, one that could have caused long-term bleeding in the Fall: it innoculated him from any subsequent revelation concerning the controversial statements of his pastor. You may recall that the big to-do in the days just preceding the Speech was whether he had been in attendance when Rev. Wright had made one of his more controversial statements. It turned out he'd been in Miami at the time, but the use of YouTube would have made it inevitable that speculation over his attendance at other gatherings where Rev. Wright had let fly with one of his stemwinders would have harmed his campaign.

Admitting he had been in the audience on other occasions where his pastor had made controversial statements that he disagreed with lessens the impact that such speculation will have. And if it's a question about whether it's appropriate for Senator Obama to have a minister who is also a sharp critic of America, the same question would have to be asked of some of the religious leaders who are close to Senator McCain, such as John Hagee. It is undeniably racist to have one standard that punishes a black politician for belonging to a congregation led by an angry jeremiah, and not one that subjects white conservative politicians to the same standard for associating with gay-bashing extremists who see the current war in the Middle East as a precursor to the extermination of all non-Christians.

Obama's gift, in his eloquent sermon last week, was to allow us to put all of our own relationships into context. If it is racist to judge Obama, and certain black churches, by one standard and McCain and white fundamentalists by another, it is also incumbent on liberals to accord the same dignity to people like Hagee and Robertson, to look beyond the words and deeds we find objectionable and to attempt to see why it is others are inpired by them. In sum, we should give the same benefit to those we violently disagree with that we give to those we love whose sentiments are equally objectionable to us. For those of us who had become skeptical of Obama as an "engine of change," last week gave us a refreshing chance to reappraise his candidacy, and in a way favorable to him.

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