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Obama & Wright, Beyond the Bite – March 19, 2008

It often takes me some time to develop strong opinions, though I tend to hold them quite fiercely.  I waded in past the sound bites and finally have an opinion to share – and of course I’d like you to share mine.

Popular news sources have been fabricating significance of the strong words of Obama’s old pastor, and then have been selecting sound bites from his recent speech and presenting them as his direct response to these particular critiques, but the real content of his speech went so far beyond mere response. What he said was deeply important and speaks to the very essence of my fears about our current political struggle between the organized Right and the disorganized… well, “non-Right”.

Since I can remember, since our Iran hostages mysteriously were let go as Reagan was sworn in, after Carter had toiled to free them, I’ve seen Republican strategists, Rove, Gingrich, attempt to win the political game, to bring our democracy’s interplay to closure, to wrest a stranglehold for their team. They have played by leveraging democracy’s tools in a way that will, to the extent that they succeed, shackle its very virtue.

Finite and Infinite Games, by James Carse, talks about this – and I’ve always seen this as a treatise on democracy. The game’s continued play is the virtue of democracy, while to the contrary, its lure is that you as an individual, with your group – your team, can achieve what you want despite what the others are trying to get for themselves – you can end the game and end it as winner.

Obama, in his recent Philadelphia speech, speaks about the nation’s perfectibility with subtlety and higher purpose than the win or than pragmatic goals. He calls us on our descent to a belief in zero-sum gain – our assumption that one’s personal plenty comes at the expense of another’s.

There’s some deep stuff in this speech if you get the time to hear it beyond the first 2.5 minutes. For so long I’ve felt assaulted by the Swiftboaters and supreme court rulings and Rove plottings, and have come to the point where I’ve wanted to screw my beliefs in democracy – long enough to beat these fuckers back.
And this speech is the first time in years I’ve heard any wisdom that goes beyond either the gluttony of the Right or the un-prepared, effete resistance of the Left.

What I note about Hillary’s Clinton’s trajectory is that finally, after Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s inability to fight back to ferocious mendacity, or to call them on their evil (and I believe the subversion of real democracy to be evil), Hillary has shown that perhaps she alone is willing to fight hard, wielding a marbled strategy of fair and nasty doggedness. This is what I’ve wanted for so long – someone who would do what it takes and fight to the finish. Had Gore possessed this commitment, had Kerry had a bit of this feistiness, we might not be seeing our country decay in the cesspool that our current state has become.

But the sad reality of the moment is that she’s using it against an opponent who wields decency, not mendacity, and for this she comes off as injudicious, awkward, and strangely mean. It might be that this quality, the will to fight as hard as it takes, is exactly what will be needed in the next battle, against McCain. It might be that this strategy is paramount, should we soon arrive with a Democrat executive, in order to beat back the Republicans in both other federal branches who will still attempt to conquer. It might be that I ought to support the unpleasant pragmatism that she displays.

But my hope is that what I see in Obama, his taking the high road without backing down, is what is really needed.

Karl brought this speech to my attention, and it was very important to me. If you can, listen to the speech: http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/hisownwords/

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