:::Please scroll down for update::: I like to give people the benefit of a doubt, but I’m pretty tired, now:::
Everyone and their mother has opined on Obama’s speech, yesterday, and I don’t have anything wise to say. I tend to agree with Tom Maguire; Obama probably did what he needed to do to assuage the Democrats, and those Independents who run center-left. As to its content and delivery, I suspect I align with Jon Podhoretz, in that the speech was both well-crafted and crafty. But I’m more interested in something beyond the speech.
Much of the commentary I’ve been reading today points to this moment as the turning point at which many writers parted from him:
I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
I’ve read a few pieces in the blogosphere suggesting that Obama played a “Grandma Cracker” card here; that he had no business comparing Wright’s public utterings with his Grandmother’s private musings. Some writers have said that “even Jesse Jackson” has admitted to being fearful in the same way as Grandma. And they’ve got a point.
His grandmother is an ailing old lady and as much a product of her times as Jeremiah Wright is a product of his times. Obama had to know that by mentioning her he was going to have hoards of press and others descending on her. It was a bad move.
But – on the other hand, and whether his Grandmother’s “cringe”-inducing racial or ethnic stereotypes were of the caliber of Wright’s assertions that (via AIDS) one race was out to destroy the other we can’t know – I can
accept see how that Obama finds equivalence there. It must have been jarring to be a black child hearing the white woman who loved and provided for him speak hurtful stereotypes. It cannot have sat easily on the mind.
It made me think back to times in my own childhood and adolescence, when my tall mother – who was stupidly proud of her height, as though she’d done something to earn it – would offer the following explanation to those who wondered how, among my very tall siblings, I could be so lacking in stature: “with her I threw away the baby and kept the afterbirth.”
It was a gag she loved to tell, but one that always left me utterly confused and thinking, so…do you love me or don’t you? How can you love me, and say something like that?
I take no offense at the “Grandma Cracker” bit [see update – admin] in Obama’s speech (though she certainly might), because I’m grateful; it reveals an important clue as to how Obama could remain with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years.
Having been raised in an environment where I often felt like “the other” and the outsider (when very small I once spent a summer nosing about the house, searching for the birth-certificate which I was sure would prove I was adopted, or had been left at the doorstep) I can picture Obama as a child, doing what children do – wondering about love, about the mother who let him stay with her parents as she went on with her own life, flinching in confusion when the woman who hugged him and sacrificed for him said something about black people that, while wholly unconnected to him, still stung, still made him aware he was different from her. Perhaps on a soft
Kansas Hawaiian night he would sit at a window and dream glamorous dreams of his father – the exotic man from Kenya – who would come back and love him and make him feel whole instead of splintered.
Looking at Obama that way, one can understand how he became so attached to Wright, an educated black man with authority and power (you might call Wright the “president” of his church) a man who, one-on-one and beyond the firey rhetoric of his pulpit, had a great deal of personal charm and warmth, and held an Afrocentric world view that connected with the imagined Kenyan father.
I would imagine that for Obama, such a man would offer an irresistible sense of homecoming. He offered something unambiguous, which must have been refreshing after the white grandmother offered confusion, and he was a father-substitute, besides. Obama could love him, and be loved black, and if the white part of him was challenged by the sermons, well, his white mother left him behind; his white grandmother confused him, so maybe they (and he) needed that challenge.
None of that excuses anything Jeremiah Wright has said, but love is blind – it helps me to understand a little about Obama, who did not lose me at “Grandma Cracker.” He did lose me with his speech, though, later on. He lost me here:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. 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 pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
I listened to that and thought. “And you just did.”
Whatever sincerity Obama expressed – whatever greatness might have been contained in his speech was lost from that incredibly sly and disingenuous paragraph, and it never came back. From there we heard about overcrowded Emergency Rooms (hey, Senator, how about a useful immigration policy that might help that circumstance?) and about the mustard-and-relish-sandwiches that unite all of us in our low-points and under-serviced victimhood.
What a disappointment. Barack Obama started out appealing to our highest natures, and he revealed a little bit of himself to us, and he even went so far as to suggest that government policies do not always make things better – (“A lack of economic opportunity among black men…contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened”) but then he dragged us right down into the pit of helpless dependency upon government and bureaucracy.
I’ve been poor. I know what it is to be hungry, and to go to work carrying a dime and a subway token and a “sandwich” made of one slice of bread and one slice of generic processed cheese, and to know there is nothing in the fridge for supper. Do you know, it never occurred to me to feel like a victim, or to wonder why the government couldn’t fix everything for me. If any politician had ever told my story and tried to wring a heart with it to advance the idea that government alone is the answer, I’d have been appalled – even back when I was a Democrat. I know where I have come from – I know that faith and plain old human kindness got me through and plugged up the drafty spots – not policy.
Obama’s speech was in turns revealing and too-clever-by-half. I don’t know, anymore, whether I hope he will prevail over Hillary or not. At one point I believed his inexperience would make him easier to beat – but this was a canny speech. How it polls in a day or two will give us some insight into whether or not he will be a formidable opponent down the road.
…according to Obama’s 1995 book…she once confessed her fear of one aggressive black beggar who didn’t pass by her but instead confronted her, demanded money, and then gave her — an intelligent, level-headed woman who had worked her way up to a mid-level corporate management position — good reason to believe he would have violently mugged her if her bus hadn’t pulled up.
If this was some doofus politician like Bush or Biden who retold the story in a misleading fashion, you might view it as just their usual struggle with using the English language to get across what they really kind of, sort of mean. But Obama is so superb with words that it’s perfectly reasonable to hold him accountable for choosing to slander his own living grandmother for his political advantage.
You’ll want to read his whole post. It seems that Obama, in his speech, clearly misrepresented things a bit to make things easier on himself and Rev. Wright. The fact that Obama keeps bringing this incident up confirms to me that this perhaps WAS a huge moment in his life, but maybe it’s not one we need to see worked out on the public stage? Perhaps all this psychodrama is best left with the therapists?
Unfortunately, with there is also Hillary, psychodrama and soap opera. Can’t the Democrats mount a candidate who is not carrying around existential baggage and a deep-seated need to be “the first” at something? Hell, even Bill Clinton needed to be “the first black president.”
Michael Gerson is devastating in his analysis
Rightwing Nut House