Sunday, January 20, 2008


It seems to me that Obama's greatest problem with the Democratic base (other than their fetishization of the Clintons, which he can't to much about), is that his core message lends itself to misinterpretation. When he talks about bringing the country together ahead of fighting for our priorities, it sounds to many like DLC-speak. Indeed, my first post on this blog was about how I still wasn't sure if Obama was a DLCer. The Democratic base doesn't want bipartisanship for its own sake, and all to often Obama sounds like he does. As I said, that perception is a misinterpretation of Obama's communitarianism. For him, bipartisanship isn't the ultimate goal. He wants to bring the American people back to a sense of solidarity in our politics that we haven't had since Watergate/Roe. He wants to reestablish the great consensus that brought us the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. That necessitates bipartisanship, sure, but not a bipartisanship among political elites. No, real bipartisanship means that the great consensus extends across party lines within the broader electorate. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't get the opportunity to give that entire explanation every time he speaks (especially in debates). That's why well-intentioned Democrats like myself can find themselves turned off to him for months at a time. The problem is compounded by Edwards' presence in the race. He helps Clinton by pushing the "fighter" mantra in every debate, serving to paint Obama as a caricature of himself - a Kumbaya-singing hippie - in a setting where Obama has little opportunity to explain his greater vision. Anyway, I really think that his message can win, but only if he finds a formulation of it that works in every setting.

Here's the best I've seen (excerpts from today's speech in Atlanta, per Ambinder, emphasis mine, full speech here):

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She’s been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we begin. It is why the walls in that room began to crack and shake.

And if they can shake in that room, they can shake in Atlanta.

And if they can shake in Atlanta, they can shake in Georgia.

And if they can shake in Georgia, they can shake all across America. And if enough of our voices join together; we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope – but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot walk alone.

In the struggle for peace and justice, we cannot walk alone.

In the struggle for opportunity and equality, we cannot walk alone

In the struggle to heal this nation and repair this world, we cannot walk alone.

So I ask you to walk with me, and march with me, and join your voice with mine, and together we will sing the song that tears down the walls that divide us, and lift up an America that is truly indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all. May God bless the memory of the great pastor of this church, and may God bless the United States of America.

No comments: