In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rev. Wright, Take Two: Maybe What Wright Needs is Some Empathy

Wright's interview with Bill Moyers, which I wrote about in my last post, was followed by a speech and in-depth question and answer session by Wright at the National Press Club yesterday. As I wrote in that last post of mine, Wright’s points in the Moyers interview seemed to be valid; Moyers also provided lengthy clips of Wright's sermons, offering a more complex view of some of his highly criticized comments. At the National Press Club however, mainly in the Q & A period, he talked a good deal more about the political side of things. I’ve been trying to sort through some of the videos of it all to make some sense of it, and while I may write more later, I have some more immediate thoughts here.

At first, after watching Wright's Q & A session and Obama's response (both of which I'll include video of below), I was a bit confused. Wright said a number of things that were slight digs against Obama, such as comments about how he (Obama) did not hear the hope in Wright's speeches, and did not go to church with great frequency. But the comment with the most potential for political damage was, appropriately, political in nature. Wright had mentioned on Moyers' show Friday night that, in distancing himself from Wright, Obama was "doing what politicians do," but left it at that. At the National Press Club however, he expressly said that Obama was doing what he had to do "to get elected."

That was, for me, plausible. As anyone whose candidate comes in the line of fire wants to think, my first reaction was that Wright's comments simply weren't true. But of course, thinking that doesn't make it so. So I asked myself whether the reasons Obama provided for distancing himself from Wright seemed valid to me, or not. My sense of the situation crystallized a bit when I looked back at part of the speech Obama gave when he first fully addressed the issue of Rev. Wright, along with the issue of race, in Pennsylvania last month.

Within that speech, Obama describes one of the key reasons he decided to distance himself from Wright:

"[T]he remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's efforts to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they professed a profoundly distorted view of this country. A view that sees white racism as endemic, that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East primarily rooted in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive. Divisive at a time when we need unity..." (These comments start around the seventh minute in this video.)

But to return to our question about Wright's claim, is Obama just saying what's necessary to be elected? To claim that implies that Obama is lying, or at least intentionally misleading. Certainly what Obama has said about Wright has helped assuage the worries of many potential supporters, but does that mean he was lying, or being misleading?

Well, I haven’t heard the comments Wright made concerning Israel, but in terms of his thoughts on white racism, I do indeed think that some of those thoughts gave the impression that white racism is "endemic," as Obama put it. I looked up a short clip on a sermon of Wright's where he talks some about Hillary Clinton, along with whites in general. In watching it, I did get the sense that he was painting whites in a pessimistic, fatalistic fashion. He makes a number of comments about African Americans that are undoubtedly true, noting that whites do not know what it’s like for a taxi to pass them by because of their color, or to be pulled over by the police because of the way they look.

These points are ones that I think Obama was making in similar fashions in his speech, but the difference is that Obama clearly attempted to see things from both the black and white perspective. As I mentioned in my first post on Obama’s “race speech,” he accurately speaks about the black and the white perspective on race, without demonizing either. The above sermon of Wright’s that I watched, available here, does not attempt to see things from both sides, in my view, and therefore comes across as demonizing in ways. I don’t think that means Wright hates whites, or anything that extreme, I think it simply means that he, in some ways, was not attempting to see things from both sides; Obama even pointed this out during his Pennsylvania speech, noting that he never saw Wright treat a white person unkindly, etc.

To wrap my thoughts up here, I would say that the whole issue here may come down to empathy. Both Obama and Wright are looking at problems, not of race, but of races--that is, problems that involve both blacks and whites. In order to do so fairly and progressively, both sides need to be considered. Do not hear me wrong though, these problems began, and to the extent that they still exist, have in many ways been perpetuated, at the hands of whites. But of course many whites do not accept these problems, passionately wanting, along with blacks and others, to see things change. It seems Obama is looking hopefully (to use "his" word) at this reality, acknowledging the problems at hands, and saying, “let’s move onto solutions.” Wright, on the other hand, in some ways at least, appears to be focusing more on the problems. There may be more to this puzzle, but those are some initial thoughts. The key videos from Wright yesterday, and Obama today, are below.

Wright at the National Press Club for Q&A, part 1 (again, he gave a speech that preceded the Q&A session, but from what I saw, he talked politics for the most part afterwards in response to questions):

Wright at the National Press Club for Q&A, part 2:

Wright at the National Press Club for Q&A, part 3:

Obama's response to Wright's National Press Club comments:

Above photo credit: Chip Somodevilla for Getty images, all rights reserved.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Video of Jeremiah Wright's First Interview Post-Controversy

Bill Moyers of PBS got the chance to interview Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright last night for the first time since the controversy broke out a few months ago. The interview's well worth watching, as it's an in-depth discussion of the African American church in general, and Wright's church specifically. The short video clips that started the controversy are shown in their full context as well, offering a more complicated picture of what was said. Both parts of the video are below, together lasting about 45 minutes; the first part deals more with the historical issues, with the interview comprising most of the second.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Update: Please see my more recent post on this subject to read about my thoughts following Rev. Wright's appearance at the National Press Club: "
Rev. Wright, Take Two: Maybe What Wright Needs is Some Empathy."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Value, and Values, of Barack: Obama on...Parenting?

In this five minute piece on education, take a look at how Obama discusses it in some basic-level detail, but then also the second half where he gets into parenting--it's good. He wears a smile most of the way through as he talks about parenting, offering some honest thoughts with the good-hearted understanding of a parent. Here's an excerpt, with the video below:

“It doesn't matter how much money we put in, if parents don't parent. It’s not good enough for you to say to your child, ‘Do good in school,’ and then when that child comes home, you’ve got the TV set on, you got the radio on, you don’t check their homework, there’s not a book in the house, you’ve got the video game playing. Am I right? So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk or put that child at the kitchen table, watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give ‘em help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher. Make ‘em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep ‘em off the streets! Give ‘em some breakfast! Come on! Can I get an amen here? You know I’m right, you know I'm right. And, I'm sorry, since I’m on a roll, if your child misbehaves in school, don’t cuss out the teacher! You know I’m right about that, you know I'm right about that. You know, don’t cuss out the teacher! Do something with your child! Alright, everybody settle down here, we're having too much fun here.”

Above photo credit: Obama's Flickr page, some rights reserved.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another Close to Clintons Endorses Obama

Add one more from Bill Clinton's former crew to Obama's list of endorsements: former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich (left). Bill Clinton's former Secretary of Energy (and former 2008 presidential candidate), Bill Richardson (below right), offered his endorsement of Obama about a month ago. Tony Lake (below left), the former National Security Adviser for Bill Clinton, has been a long supporter of Obama's, and serves as a senior policy adviser on his campaign; this is particularly significant, as National Security Advisers serve as the chief adviser to the president on national security issues. The movement of those who served closest with Bill Clinton to Obama's camp speaks volumes; I don't think it demonizes the Clintons, as people are generally not that black and white, but I do think the endorsements reveal thoughtful decisions by some who worked closely alongside Bill and Hillary. It should similarly allow the fears of O's inexperience to fall away all the more. Reich's endorsement yesterday, posted on his blog here, reveals a surprisingly logical decision, that notably is based on Obama's positions and demeanor, not, in large part, on Hillary's negative qualities (though there are certainly some that deserve consideration). Here's Reich's thoughts:

"The formal act of endorsing a candidate is generally (and properly) limited to editorial pages and elected officials whose constituents might be influenced by their choice. The rest of us shouldn't assume anyone cares. My avoidance of offering a formal endorsement until now has also been affected by the pull of old friendships and my reluctance as a teacher and commentator to be openly partisan. But my conscience won't let me be silent any longer.

I believe that Barack Obama should be elected President of the United States.

Although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so. His plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding. His approaches to the housing crisis and the failures of our financial markets are sounder than hers. His ideas for improving our public schools and confronting the problems of poverty and inequality are more coherent and compelling. He has put forward the more enlightened foreign policy and the more thoughtful plan for controlling global warming.

He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.

Finally, he offers the best hope of transcending the boundaries of class, race, and nationality that have divided us. His life history exemplifies this, as do his writings and his record of public service. For these same reasons, he offers the best possibility of restoring America's moral authority in the world."