Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's "Race" Speech and Beer Goggles

It never fails to amuse me how that two apparently intelligent people can hear or read the same exact speech and have such completely opposite takes on its meaning. This seems like a perfect example of how our worldviews and beliefs (beer goggles) can totally and completely hijack our experience of the world.

Obama's "race" speech yesterday is the perfect example.

Here is Victor David Hanson's take on the speech:

Instead, to Obama, the postmodernist, context is everything. We all have eccentric and flamboyant pastors like Wright with whom we disagree. And words, in his case, don’t quite mean what we think; unspoken intent and angst, not voiced hatred, are what matters more.

Rather than account for his relationship with a hate-monger, Obama will enlighten you, as your teacher, why you are either confused or too ill-intended to ask him to disassociate himself from Wright.

The Obama apologia was a “conversation” about moral equivalence. So the Wright hatred must be contextualized and understood in several ways that only the unusually gifted Obama can instruct us about....

You can read more, but the obvious sarcasm tells you everything you need to know about where Hanson stands.

Having seen one take on the speech -- Hanson's sense that Obama was condescending to the nation by seeking to use the Wright situation as a "teaching moment" -- here is another view which is essentially exactly opposite of Hanson's position, this time from John Nichols.

At the most basic level, Obama did what the media has failed to do. He presented Wright and Wright's comments on U.S. domestic and foreign policies in context: the context of the African-American religious experience, the context of the candidate's connection to the church and, above all, the context of this country's unresolved experience of what Obama correctly refers to as "the original sin" of the American experiment -- human bondage -- and its legacy.

The speech was masterful in this regard. Obama took the time to explore questions that rarely if ever get a fair hearing in American politics. He avoided cheap theatrics, such as an blunt rejection of Wright as an individual or a spiritual leader. "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," the senator acknowledged.

"But," Obama added, "the truth is that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS."

The speech was not merely gracious, it was instructive. Indeed, it was an essential component of the "teaching moment" – the part that made the rest of what Obama was saying more real and credible.

The other part of what made this particular "teaching moment" so successful was the candidate's recognition that it was not merely his task to open up a deeper discussion. He also had to challenge his listeners.

So which view is correct? The answer of course will depend on your own worldview and your own beliefs.

In my experience, both are partially true (though I tend more toward Nichols position). What really matters is that both views be read and thought about -- and that we appreciate living in a country where such divergent beliefs are not only permitted but are a part of our rights as human beings.

It does become important at some point to look at the beer goggles we wear when it comes to political beliefs, or any other kinds of beliefs, and examine their usefulness or their validity. Maybe in doing so we can remove the goggles and be accepting of more than one view at a time as possessing some truth -- the true sign of an evolved human being.

Tags: Politics, race, culture, Barack Obama, John Nichols, Victor David Hanson, beer goggles, worldviews, beliefs

1 comment:

(0v0) said...

Great post! Thanks, W.