THE SPEECH! and Uncle Tom
Yes, I know that I'm jumping into the blogosphere along with hundreds of thousands of other blogs covering the same subject, but the beauty and wonder of blogging is that maybe someone out there will read it and think "well that's a bit different!"
I find it ironic that Obama's speech fell on the eve of the 156th anniversary of the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I looked up the synopsis (hey, it's been about 45 years!) and I realized that my copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Literature made a valid yet thought-provoking point: one of the book's main messages is that "The slavery crisis can only be resolved by Christian love."
The same could be said about discrimination and other social ills: the racial-ethnic-gender-sexual orientation-healthcare-economic-immigration crisis can only be resolved by love - Christian or otherwise. But what has America embraced instead of love? The answer may be a form of Righteous Hatred.
It spewed forth from the pulpit of Rev. Wright. It was sanctioned by his pulpit. Just as righteous hatred against Jews (e.g. radio superstar Father Coughlin in the 30s and 40s), hatred against homosexuals (McCain's televangelist mentor Rod Parsley) and hatred against Muslims (Pastor John Hagee) have all been presented as the inspired words of God by "men of God." In effect, hatred has been given a kind of Star Trek force-field shield in both churches and media across the country.
Getting back to Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic, I came across an interesting reaction from a contemporary British critic as to the reason why it sold oer 200,000 copies in England: "The evil passions which 'Uncle Tom' gratified in England were not hatred or vengeance [of slavery], but national jealousy and national vanity. We have long been smarting under the conceit of America—we are tired of hearing her boast that she is the freest and the most enlightened country that the world has ever seen." (emphasis my own).
Doesn't this sound a bit ....contemporary? No wonder Bush Buzz-Bombs ("Freedom!" "Democracy!") don't work in foreign diplomacy.
OK, I'll get off that soapbox (for now).
Let's look at some of the speech and some of the reactions (mine in red):
It’s a story [his heritage and upbringing] that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one. That may be true, but try telling that to some big-time discriminaters: the Southern Baptist Convention, Bob Jones University, the up-and-coming Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwells of our country.
[on Rev. Wright] But 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. In other words, he's a walking contradiction: a "progressive" Christian who makes use of the bully pulpit when he's angry about something. Isn't he being just a bit hypocritical about "our obligations to love one another" when he says "God damn America"?
... anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. (True) That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races." Possibly, but to give vent to it means you're not following the Golden Rule. And if you give vent to it at all, it should be outside the pulpit.
"The speech drew praise across the political spectrum, though some on the right questioned Obama's assertion that his liberal agenda could unite different races. But many who heard the speech wondered whether it would be enough to calm the anger generated by the Wright videos. Gerald Shuster, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, found the speech "stylistically persuasve" but thought Obama should have moved aggressively to distance himself from Wright months ago, when reports of his harsher sermons first surfaced. "The rhetoric is convincing, but it's just coming too late," he said.
"He didn't shirk any of the issues -- he attacked them head-on," he said. The speech "will shore up what we can do to help him and say to people, 'This guy is for real.'
J. Alfred Smith, the senior pastor at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., and a friend of Wright's, clapped in his living room as Obama lauded Wright for "housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day-care services and scholarships and prison ministries.""There's a lot of anger, but Reverend Wright is a human being, and Obama finally showed that," he said. "All of us from that generation had to go around through the back door, had to ride in the segregated portion of the train. That anger can keep us marred down in the mud, or it can be creatively used. Brother Obama has called for our higher selves to rule over our animalistic selves."
-"As a long-standing and firm conservative, and admittedly an old white guy, I have to say that I’m for divisiveness, because that’s what wins elections for us. America is about winners and losers. WSJ readers should ignore Obama’s speech precisely because he’s a black Democrat. I’m making a lot of money in this economy, and I’m not going to let the Dems take away my advantages."
"My forefathers were peasants, persecuted by Franco, emigrated to the U.S., worked their butts off at menial jobs, every generation after has done better. That’s America. Barack’s part of that picture, not a descendant of slaves. He’s right about black fear and prejudice, just like white fear and prejudice. The elders in my family had their prejudices too…as do I but he’s right. We have to stand together…or fall apart."
Hopefully, that's what Obama is really means beyond his uplifting rhetoric. And, hopefully, he can be up to the monumental task of uniting us.
"God's will would be followed if each person sincerely examined his principles
and acted on them."*
*Bellin, Joshua D. "Up to Heaven's Gate, down in Earth's Dust: the Politics of Judgment in Uncle Tom's Cabin" American Literature 1993 65(2): 275–295. Issn: 0002-9831 Fulltext online at Jstor and Ebsco.