Posts Tagged 'Trinity United Church of Christ'

Okay. I have some love for Barack.


With regard to Barack Obama, I might’ve spoken a little to soon, and a little too definitively. Though I stand by just about everything I said, I think my general implication, that Obama has masterminded some kind of malevolent and intentionally misleading campaign (which I more or less considered, truth be told) is a bit off. Perhaps way off.

The thing is, watching Obama get flustered in the debates, as Clinton and Edwards blatantly team up on him, it seems clear to me that the man really, truly believes what he says. Regardless of how I feel about his vague or flat-out naive plans to bring about the “hope” and “change” he’s campaigning on, my first impression of the man was built on cynicism rather than what I was actually seeing and hearing. Granted, I grew up through three separate Bush Administrations and eight years of a Clinton White House. I’m entitled to some cynicism.


I do believe Obama has more or less deflected the question of his race. In the debate on Monday, when asked about whether or not it should be taken into consideration that the potential first African-American President was in the race, he called Americans to vote not for what divides us, but for those things which unite us. That is, he actually referred to his ethnicity as a divisive element. Upon reviewing his famous address at the 2004 DNC, I discovered he refers to himself not as a black man, but simply as “a skinny kid with a funny name”. I maintain that he is not at all an African American, but believe now that he more or less holds this opinion himself. It is rather those in the media and public arena who have continued to label him, even marginalize him as the “black” candidate.

I’m open to the idea that the man really is this earnest. Maybe he didn’t write his two books to setup his ethnicity and insulate himself from criticism over prior drug use and general bad behavior in his youth. Maybe he just flat-out means what he says, and wants this country to know who he is, all the way. Maybe he felt compelled to join Trinity United for genuine, personal reasons; maybe he found truth there. The frustration in his eyes, and thorough explanations he provides to defend himself against so many allegations, allegations of ties to radical Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan, or an inconsistent record in the Senate with regard to the war in Iraq (a blatant lie from the Clinton campaign — the man has been a model of consistency on the issue) simply cannot be tacked on. It’s just hard to believe that a politician can be so heartfelt, so humane and, quite frankly, so naive.

He’s young. He’s inexperienced. If he’s elected, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to do much good for this nation in practical terms (getting us out of Iraq, fixing the economy, etc.). At best, things won’t be any worse in four years. But in terms of our national morale, in terms of doing something to lessen our contentiousness, the open hostility between our two parties, which every day become more and more alike, I believe he may make a difference or, in his words, a change. Perhaps great change. And someone as cynical as I am about politics and our American government could certainly go for that.


Why I Have No Love For Barack Obama


Barack Obama might just be the finest politician this country has ever known. He has no business pretending to be a serious candidate, and no ground whatsoever from which to stand and suggest he is qualified, or at all prepared to take this nation’s highest office, and yet he remains at the head of the pack, with perhaps the greatest odds of winning both his party nomination and the American presidency. Obama himself is a brilliant tactician and communicator. He knows (and a tearful Hillary Clinton is learning) that winning the race has nothing to do with concrete plans or progressive ideas, but with charisma and emotional resonance. He’s known it since 1995, just before embarking on a career in politics, when he wrote and published “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, a memoir which provides detailed reflections on American race relations and Obama’s journey in discovering his own ethnic heritage. And his heritage is interesting. No more than my own, or anyone else’s for that matter, but interesting nonetheless.

A quick recap on Barack Obama’s heritage: His mother, Ann Dunham, is a white woman from Kansas, and his late father was a native Kenyan who lived in the United States for a brief period to study at several universities. Barack’s parents divorced when he was just two years old, and his father moved back to Kenya, never to see his son again. After a brief stint in Indonesia, Barack was raised by Dunham with help from her parents, as part of a white middle class American household.

Here’s the thing: Barack Obama is not an African-American. And he knows it. He’s black, sure, and no one, least of all Barack himself, is shy about this. But in terms of American history and culture, the only thing black about Barack Obama is his complexion. He is not a descendent of African-American slavery, or of those who suffered the outcome of Plessy v. Ferguson, but of one Harvard-educated native Kenyan and, of course, a white woman from Wichita.

I mention Plessy v. Ferguson because to lump Barack Obama in with African-Americans is to take the root of Homer Plessy’s case, turn it on end and spin it to a blinding effect. Homer Plessy was chosen as plaintiff in this case because he was one-eighth black, an “octaroon” to use the nomenclature of that time, and the argument, underneath all the lawyering, was simple: race cannot be reasonably defined in fractions. The decision in this case, an unfavorable ruling for Mr. Plessy, created the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, which paved the way for insane “One Drop” legislation and further segregation of our country.

To champion Barack Obama as the probable first African-American President, when he is as much a white man as he is black, when he is no more historically connected with the African-American people than our first “Black President” Bill Clinton, is an appeal to the backwards fractional reasoning of the Jim Crow era. The difference is, now the distinction is positive. We encourage this strong black Presidential candidate to the extent that we will overlook or draw contradictory conclusions about his roots and see not the content of his character as a man or political leader, but the color of his skin, the drop of African blood in his veins.

So he wrote his first book. And he joined Trinity United Church of Christ which is, as its website proudly declares, “Unashamedly Black”. In 2004, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama compared his  “Audacity of Hope” with the hope of “slaves sitting around a campfire singing freedom songs”. Thus on one hand he is open about both his personal and ethnic background, and on the other he is “unashamedly black”, playing on the emotional resonance of the American racial landscape. He’s got Oprah now. He has engaged (without engaging, which is the most impressive part of his political acumen) the Clinton campaign in ongoing hostile dialogue which portrayed both Bill and Hillary as, at worst, bigots or, at best, merely ignorant (without, of course, saying as much). 

Barack is a master of doublespeak. He embodies it. He gives loud and preposterous speeches about national unity, glossing over our most fundamental political differences as if those between Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives are akin to spats between little boys and little girls who need merely grow up and learn to get along. Which, of course, is absolutely true, and yet not true at all. And people love him for it.

In his famous 2004 keynote address, he belittled both John Kerry and John Edwards for “[calling] on us to hope”, implying that this call was one of, as he put it, “blind optimism” and “willful ignorance”. But then he went on to define his particular brand of hope as, “The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!”

This, of course, isn’t blind optimism or willful ignorance. It’s less than either of these and yet, to most who were listening, who were either unable or unwilling to see it for what it was, a shameless and hollow appeal to our emotions, it was everything. It sealed his status as a great man, a great leader of men and a great candidate for the American Presidency.

This extends to his policies. His position in Iraq, for example, is to pull the troops out of Iraq, keeping only enough to continue to ward off Al Qaeda and protect the reconciliation of Iraq’s political infrastructure. Thing is, that’s what the Bush Administration is doing now. That’s what the Surge is intended to accomplish, though it continues to require even more money and more troops. Thus Obama is admittedly going to do the exact same thing while calling it something different. Something more hopeful.

And maybe this is what America needs. It’s certainly what Americans seem to want, a candidate who can rile us out of our collective political funk, who knows how to deliver a speech, who looks good on television and, on top of it all, really, truly knows how to play the game. A president with the intelligence to criticze his opponents for their vague and/or manipulative language, while using both to a far superior effect. Like in Vegas, where Obama refers to “Those kinds of tricks, that kind of approach to politics,” and how they “[have] to stop because what happens is then nobody believes anything . . . The voters don’t believe what politicians say. They get cynical. Folks in Congress, they’ll tell you they’re looking out for you – they’re looking out for somebody else.” He does not follow this by assuring that he, himself one of those “folks in Congress”, is looking out for us, or map out how he will stop these machinations of government. He just says we need change. And that’s, of course, why he’s running. It’s his whole platform.

How about on the tail end of drawing Hillary’s campaign into that sort-of-but-not-really racist squabbling, when Obama spoke favorably of, and compared himself to, Ronald Reagan, with vague references to “changing the trajectory of America”. A black democrat touting Ronald Reagan, a borderline apocalyptic occurrence.

And some poor, foolish Reagnite thought: Wow. I really like this Obama.

It’s the political equivalent of a magic show, the trickery of smoke and mirrors. He makes you believe he’s sawing the woman in half, when he has just hidden two women in the box. It’s sleek and entertaining and innocuous (at least for now) and causes us to marvel rather than to think. It’s audacious and hopeful and certainly, as Obama will famously and predictably remind us all, a change. But it’s a change that won’t change much of anything in the end. Nothing below the surface. And Obama was smart enough to realize that, to most of America, the surface is what matters most, and most are happily and willingly played as fools, so long as they look good and feel good doing so.

This, I’m afraid, will never change.