There’s a lot to unpack in what’s happened for the last few days in Obama-land. It’s late here in Milwaukee, and I don’t think I can do my thinking on this complete justice yet – but I do think I can do a fast pass over the issues as I see them and then try and dig a bit deeper over the next few days, unless events overtake me again.
Do I still support Obama? Yes. Am I shocked by anything I’m seeing in the news over the last week? No. Do they change my views of who Obama is or the implications for his candidacy? No. I do think there may be a huge impact on his candidacy – and I’m really reassured by the fact that a McCain presidency won’t make my head explode.
Let me make a pair of general comments that seem relevant, make a general comment about what I think Obama’s politics are and mean, and the wrap up for tonight.
First, I’m amused to see the politics of crazy intolerance that have made so many on the right – and some of us on the left – disgusted with the PC left (anyone else feeling schadenfreude over ‘Jungle Girl‘-gate?) play out on the right.
Yes, Wright is a liberation theologist with a bunch of views that range from wacky to disgusting. But you know, damning Obama for having a relationship with him is like damning me for having a relationship with arguably-racist Jeff Cooper or with some of my more outrageously right-wing friends from my shooting community. It’s like my conservative friends damning me because I have other friends who are Chomskyites.The reality is that we all know people who hold views that are better not exposed to the bright light of public scrutiny. That doesn’t mean – necessarily – that they are horrible people. many good people – even great people – hold views that I’d be repelled by. But we judge people on the whole of their lives and acts, not on the worst thing that they say or believe.
Tim Oren suggests that we’re in a new ‘domestic cold war’, and he’s right to an extent – because we live in the world where what we worship is Perpetual Outrage, and we reserve the right – not to be casually dismissive, or to disagree and ‘move on’ – but to dismiss any taint of opinions that we find displeasing and try and drive them out of the world.
Second, I wrote something a long time ago, and want to bring the whole thing here:
Earlier, I noted that I wasn’t happy with either the inclusion of ‘under God’ into the Pledge, or with the court decision that maybe-kinda struck it. I got comments, both from people who felt they had been scorned and abused as children because they wouldn’t say it and from parents who wanted to spare their children from such opprobrium.
I thought about it a bit while driving the Boyyz around this afternoon, and talking to them came to the conclusion that, basically, I was right. Here’s the deal:
Dealing with other people requires a certain flexibility. They don’t know what you know, believe what you believe, or feel what you feel. The entire problem of politics is how to engage people and keep them engaged in some common purpose, even one as minor as obeying traffic signals.
I’m not Jewish; but when I go to a Jewish wedding or funeral, I wear a yarmulke. Why? Out of politeness. Out of a willingness to respect the beliefs of others.
But, you say, that’s exactly what the Pledge doesn’t do! It doesn’t respect my beliefs!
And that’s the key, isn’t it? On one hand, my desire is to respect the beliefs of others, where it doesn’t materially affect me and regardless of my own beliefs in the matter. On the other, your complaint is an overwhelming desire that your beliefs be respected, no matter how trivial the violation, regardless of the impact on yourself or others.
Look, we’re not talking about material affect, about racist exclusion…about fighting to give your kid opportunity or dignity. And, in part, it’s this conflation of hurt feelings with Jim Crow or the Holocaust that is driving me nuts.
And in the other part, I think that including the ‘under God’ clause was an embarrassing artifact of late 50’s cultural rigidity. I’d like to see it removed. But I’d like to see it removed via a process which doesn’t drive a further wedge between the folks in the U.S. who are clinging to the symbols of a nonexistent former consensus, and those who feel alienated from that consensus.
We?re at a point in our history when we need to find the threads that bind us into a nation and a polity. Sadly, ?win at any cost? politicians (c.f. Gray ‘SkyBox’ Davis), and culture warriors of one stripe or another are happy to drive wedges, if they believe the fractures serve their short-term political interests.
And we’re at a point in our political history that’s been made by single-issue warriors…for and against development, for and against abortion, for and against parks for dogs…and damn those on the other side of the issue.
I had the unique opportunity to have dinner once with then-State Senator John Schmitz. He was a genuine John Birch society member, elected from Orange County, who lost his office when it was discovered that his mistress had sexually abused their sons. (His daughter is also Mary Kay Le Tourneau, so I’ll take as a given that the family had ‘issues’). He was still in the Senate, and made a comment that I’ve always remembered:
When Moscone ran the Senate, he and I used to fight hammer and tongs all day, then go out and have drinks over dinner and laugh about it. We differed on where we wanted the boat to go, but we recognized that we were in the same boat. These new guys would gladly sink the boat rather then compromise.
And that’s why I think the decision was stupid, and why the forces behind it ‘the Church of My Wounded Feelings’ and their soldiers, the Warrior Cult of the Single Issue’ are incredibly destructive. And right now, we don’t have the time for it.
My sons don’t go to church, because I’ve never gone to church (at one point, one of my exes went to what I jokingly called ‘The Church of the Sandinista’ in Ocean Park, but I thought Jim Conn was a good guy, so I’ll cut them some slack). I don’t think they are abused by being asked to say ?under God? in the Pledge, and when they ask me about it (each one has, either in kindergarten or first grade) I tell them the truth; that some people who believed in God a lot asked to have it added to the pledge, and got the President to add it. And that they will; have to make up their own minds about whether to say it or whether to believe in God when they are older. But that this is how they do it in their school, and when I’m in a similar situation I say it, while thinking about all the people who do believe in God, and how cool it is that we all get to believe whatever we want in this society. But they get to decide.
If they told me they were being teased about it, I’d ask them how it differs from all the other things kids get teased for – childhood is a vicious time – and talk to them about how to respond in a way that protects themselves emotionally without becoming the bullies they are afraid of.
Somehow this whole thing reeks of the kind of pecksniffery that wants to ban tag and dodgeball. It’s the same kind of thinking that bans Nativity scenes or menorahs from public buildings, and worries more about changing the names of sports teams than about bringing people along to actually change the world.
And the main thing that appeals to me about Obama is that he sets out a politics that puts this behind us. Can he live up to it? No. But can he help steer out national politics in the right direction? Yes, he can.
Here’s a description from a critical fan of Obama’s over at Daily Kos who sums up the core of Obama’s values pretty well:
At the core of Obama’s political philosophy is the belief that real divisions should not stand in the way of conversation. He has always believed that it is right and necessary for us to speak to folks on the other side of the aisle, to speak with our enemies. That to do so is a sign of strength, of problem-solving, and that it can be done without having to compromise any of our own values in the process.
I don’t agree with this strategy. At all. But I respect it. I understand it. And I made my peace with it long ago when I came around to openly supporting Obama’s candidacy at the beginning of the year. For progressives to suddenly complain about this suggests they either haven’t been paying attention to Obama’s core values, or have conveniently decided to only remember them now in order to beat him over the head.
On one hand, this is a refreshingly old-fashioned kind of politics; something you could picture LBJ or – especially – FDR doing.
On the other, it can be viewed as Habermasian – and given his eating and reading habits, I wonder if Obama has read Jurgen Habermas. Here’s the Wikipedia article on ‘communicative rationality,’ which is one of Habermas’ key concepts.
And I’ll toss out to this group that it’s even Smithian – as in Clint Smith, who no one can claim is a leftist delicate flower.
“You better learn to communicate real well, because when you’re out there on the street, you’ll have to talk to a lot more people than you’ll have to shoot, or at least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work.”
I’m making this point in an effort to point out why it is that – in my mind – Obama isn’t automatically disqualified from consideration as a Presidential candidate because he is close to Wright.
Is this good news? Does it tie me more closely to him. Nope. Am I hitting the door? Nope, not today.
Look, the guy is a liberal. We’d all best get that. He’s a brilliant speaker, but arguably not yet a mature enough candidate to win election. But he’s not running against FDR. He doesn’t have to be faster than the bear; he just needs to be faster than Hillary or John McCain. We’ll see how this plays out.
More to follow.