Posted by: Christine Johnson | March 20, 2008

My Analysis of "A More Perfect Union"

By now, everyone and his uncle has said something about The Speech (Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union“).  I didn’t want to get too caught up in things without having actually read the speech, so I went to the above link and printed it off.  I finished reading it just after dinner.  Here are my thoughts on portions of the speech, with a lengthy comment at the end.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

I thought this was quite touching, actually.  Look, just because I don’t like his policies doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some of the qualities about him.  And if you can’t look at this paragraph and see something positive, I am not sure I can say anything to you to change your mind.  But I liked this paragraph.

The next thing that struck me was the comments saying he couldn’t disown his pastor any more than his grandmother.  I discussed that here, and I’ll let you go read it (if you haven’t already) for my thoughts on this section.

The Anchoress, as I mentioned in my other post, discussed his relationship with his pastor in a post of her own, which I again encourage you to read if you haven’t already.  She deals well with this next area covered in the speech, and I haven’t much of anything to add there.

Now some of my comments on the next portion of this speech are most definitely Catholic, but that’s why the name of my blog is “Ramblings of a Catholic Soccer Mom.”  I’m Catholic, and it is through my Faith that I view the world.  

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

Really, though, I think that as things became better socially, the decline of the black family sped up.  40 years ago, were nearly 2/3 of black children born out of wedlock?  Were such great portions of black men in jail?  Did black children flunk out of school because to pass was to be “too white?”  Now, maybe not all of this is related to it, but I see great damage done by the abundance of artificial birth control.  It’s done great damage to all families, but because of Planned Parenthood’s racist background and their targeting of minorities specifically, it’s done more damage in a shorter amount of time to black families.  For more about why this is so, I encourage you to read Humana Vitae.  It’s coming up on the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the encyclical, and the Holy Father predicted much of the difficulties and problems we face today.  It’s on my reading list, I’ll tell you that.  

That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And this exploitation goes both ways, though until now, Obama had not partaken in the identity politics.  Now, at this point in the speech, he begins to dip his toe in the waters of identity politics.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.

The only thing I thought here was, “I’m so glad to be Catholic.”  At Mass, the Eucharist is the center of worship, but in a Protestant service, the sermon is.  So there is more opportunity for this kind of anger to “find its voice in the church.”

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.

This is quite true.  And Barack Obama should be credited with saying it aloud.  I’ve got more to say about this notion at the end.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Jay Anderson had an excellent post on this, and I have to say that from what I can remember, the Reagan Coalition happened because people were sick of Carter’s policies and the “malaise” that blanketed the country.  I was young when he was elected, and I could very well be wrong.  I’ll admit that, too, if I see evidence that it was about race and welfare and affirmative action.  But, like I said, from what I understand, it was mostly about the economy.

But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.

And here is where Obama seems to start running through the surf to get to those waters.  *sigh*  And he’d avoided it so well for so long.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This, my friends, is an excellent point, no matter who makes it.  Barack should be commended for saying this aloud!  It is 100% true.  And I’ll have more to say about this, too, at the end of this post.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

This is where he starts to channel his inner Big Government self.  He started out saying that part of what’s weakened the black family and community is welfare, and then talks about the government fixing things.  Also notice the “black and brown and white children” comment?  Here he begins to gallop into those waters of identity politics.  Picture your own children running full-bore into the surf at the ocean, splashing as they run further and further in.  

 We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news.

I don’t recall a lot of white people walking around discussing OJ as if it was all about his being black, or that the problems after Katrina had anything to do with race at all.  So exactly who did this?  It’s sad that it happens at all, you know.  Neither had anything to do with race or skin color at all.

We can do that.

Did you see Stephen Colbert talk about this part of the speech? It was hilarious!

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

*sigh*  Let’s be sure we mention as many races as we can.  Splash, splash, splash!

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

This is basically a long list of his campaign promises.  Blah, blah, stump speech, blah, blah.  (Not that I don’t expect this at all, but … there it is.)

Then, in the middle of the wrap-up story (actually, a kind of interesting a personal thing he encountered), we get this:

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

WHAT???  “[T]he source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work”??  The problem for her mother was that she had cancer, lost her job, and then lost her insurance (no COBRA, I guess, but COBRA really is pretty expensive).  What on God’s green earth would THAT have to do with blacks on welfare who are too lazy to work?  This was just like watching him get up on the dock and do a big cannonball into the water.  KER-SPLASH!!!

“I’m 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.

Splish, splash.  Race again. *sigh*

My final thoughts on the whole speech.

This speech was a big one on race.  But, to be honest, I just don’t care that much about race.  It’s not a big deal to me, and some might say that’s because I’m white, that white people just don’t care.  But if white generally feel this way (and in my experience, they do), then who is making race relations strained?  If I don’t care about the color of your skin, then why do I need to feel guilty for the sins of past generations?  And why do blacks hold on so tight to these angry feelings?  Some people will pick at it like a scab – think of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton and their ilk – and under those circumstances, who can expect for it to improve?  At lease Barack Obama admits that things have improved, and that is something race warlords have refused to do.  So there is hope in what he says.  And yet, he includes just enough identity politics to satisfy those who refuse to see such improvement.  

Overall, the speech is okay, but it strikes me as someone who is delicately trying to have it both ways.  And that’s a shame because if he embraced the idea that most of America isn’t racist, he might help further race relations again.  But by playing to those prejudices – even just at the end of his speech – he perpetuates the idea that has been driven into blacks over the last couple of decades.  Things are bad.  White people are racist.  They only see you for your skin color.

The irony is, that’s all the race warlords see of me.

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