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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Obama's Speech - Fool's Gold?

March 19, 2008
CROSS-POSTED AT MyDD and Hillary'sVoice

I just read through Sen. Obama’s speech two times although I will confess, I did not listen to it. To preface the remainder of my remarks, I tried to read it without any political agenda, and although I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton, I believe I was able to give it a fair reading. I found that as I read it, I agreed with the sentiments he expressed, and indeed found them quite eloquent and powerful, until he got to the end of the following paragraph.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Although I do not know the content of private discussions my rabbis may have ever had with their friends and family, I can say unequivocally that I have never heard any of my rabbis ever say anything that could be considered politically controversial regarding American Politics, and with which I strongly disagreed, because American Politics is not discussed in synagogue! I suppose that is because there are people of differing political beliefs that have belonged to the synagogues I have belonged to (even though for the most part, the members are fairly liberal, at least on social issues) and political beliefs are individually formed and decided upon.

The sermons that I have heard tend to speak to the larger issues of our value systems and morality and the necessity to take responsibility for one’s actions and words. Although the values I have learned from my religion do not constitute my political identity, they have, together with my study of law, history, economics, political science etc… , and the fact that I live in this world with other people who do not all share my thoughts and beliefs or act the way I would, played a part in developing my political identity.

I also can state that if I ever heard, or heard of, any public statements that came out of my Rabbi’s mouth in synagogue, that were any way in the nature of words that Rev. Wright said, and if that statement was not quickly denounced by the leadership and members of my synagogue, I would leave and find a new synagogue, regardless of whatever other wonderful things my Rabbi may have said or done in the past.

It is not reasonable for individuals, not to mention political leaders, to sit by silently when hatred is freely and publicly expressed. The words used by Rev. Wright are at their essence, evidence of the hatred which is at the root of racism and are at odds with all concepts of equality. To remain in a community that allows the use of these words by its religious leaders to go unchecked, is in fact, tacit approval of those words, and thereby allows those words to slowly and insidiously poison people’s minds and beliefs.

It is not insignificant to note that Rev. Wright’s statements were loudly and visibly supported by many in his congregation. This message of hatred which was taught by Rev. Wright, and learned by many of his congregants, cannot be simply redeemed by the claim, which I will presume to be valid, that Rev. Wright has over the years, also taught positive messages and has done good and positive work for his community.

In light of this, it is fair to note that bad things can happen when good people do nothing. In the case of Sen. Obama, “doing nothing” includes being a member of that church knowing of all this going on, and continuing in his close relationship with Rev. Wright throughout these years.

It is also problematic to me that the above statement by Sen. Obama seems to presume that all religious leaders make or can be expected to make statements similar or at least parallel to those made by Rev. Wright. This seems to be a major weakness in his understanding of the world outside of his own community.

Sen. Obama, in his attempt to explain why he has continued in his relationship with his church and Rev. Wright describes the emotionally and spiritually compelling experiences he has had at Trinity and then states that
as imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Obama concludes that this is sufficient justification to maintain his continued relationship with Rev. Wright and implicitly, with his church, notwithstanding Obama’s past awareness of Rev. public statements of hate and divisiveness, reducing their importance to mere “snippets” of Wright’s career, and asserting that they are being taken out of context.

I understand the need to find a religious community that speaks to your spiritual, emotional and familial needs. I agree that Wright has both good and bad in him as does everyone, but (and this is a big but) I do not believe that what we have seen on video are only occasional rants, nor do I believe that they can be overlooked by anyone, least of all, a candidate for President of the United States. Although I can understand Sen. Obama’s desire to maintain his friendship, I cannot understand his continued support and membership in his church, because as I have learned through my own travels, you can find welcoming and loving communities in many places.

The fact that Sen. Obama believes that these statements can and should be overlooked says a lot about Obama. What it says to me is that these are the lessons that live in his heart and have played a part in the forming of his political beliefs. The fact that he makes Wright comparable to his white grandmother who has “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” shows that he neither understands nor sees the difference between the two, and explains why his campaign keeps accusing Hillary Clinton of playing the race card. Furthermore, he fails to any way address the fact that the gender animus prevalent in this race and in American culture is a concern equally deserving of fairness and equality.

Although this speech has beautiful words and thoughts in it, once you get past the surface, what this speech says to me that Sen. Obama does not really have an understanding of the issues and concerns of the larger American community, and demonstrates why he is not ready to be President.

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