Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Speech

I've read it... I've watched it... I've read a myriad of reviews - commentary from the left and the right... Is it *important* the way some are claiming - something transcendent? no. Is it going to change the dialog on race and class and liberal and conservative? no. Does it justify the fainting and screaming of the many so that the Becks of the world will stop questioning Obama's Satanic nature? no.

It is a message of unity in a country profoundly divided. A country of camps that have stopped listening to each other... camps entrenched in echo chambers, encouraged by greater and greater absurdity, lemmings that chase off into the far distance, encouraged by their compatriots, filled with such self-righteous indignation over the very prospect of being wrong on any subject that they will support anything in the defense of their beliefs. The disaffected left may not be AS guilty of this as the right, but they're certainly not innocent of the trait.

So why... why does this speech matter. Because it speaks to the truth - the core of the issue - unabashedly. Politicians dont do this. This is a man doing what's right, not what's politically calculated and expedient. For years - rovian politics has been the norm - making your opponent into something false was step one. This is why Clinton attacked Obama as a xerox candidate - it's the classic rule. If your opponent is not REAL - then you may apply fallacies to them at will. John Kerry went from war hero to war criminal... John McCain has a brown baby... Ann Richards is a drunk cokewhore... this is what Karl Rove was all about, lies and distortions taken to a point and then pushed over the edge into outright absurdity. It is effective when you're dealing with candidates who, by and large, are not REAL under the surface - which means pretty much all of them. What Obama did here was he went for the bold truth... he took something complex and nuanced and wrapped it in skilled oratory - made it personal to everyone - and did it in a way that embraced the complaints and bitterness both sides of the political spectrum feel on the subject.

Contrast it with Hillary's big moment on the trail - her breakdown in Connecticut... or with W's imperialistic swaggering spew this morning 5 years into Iraq... it's neither calculated nor filled with lies. This is not what we've come to expect in American politics.

In ways, Obama and the campaign he's running is a lot like Martin O'Neill - a remarkable motivator who plays a different game than everyone else... but just as with questions as to whether O'Neill would have been successful with the reins of England - the question is can this style of play work against opponents who play such a different game. We've seen Clinton struggle with it to be honest - neither she nor her campaign has been able to pin the stupid and absurd on him and make anything stick. McCain, hobbled by the lukewarm support of both the country club and born again axes - should fare no better.

But the real question is this... can the American electorate hear a nuanced argument to a complex problem and go with it? One of the great truths to come out of Rovian style politics is that a short simple lie is a much better answer than a long complex truth - Gore proved that in spades. Global warming isnt true... Al Qaida was in Iraq... Intelligent Design... &c. Are we, as a nation, too stupid to elect someone who sees complex problems as complex? Are we, as a race, too stupid to save ourselves from destroying the planet upon which we depend for our very survival... In 2000 I assumed we couldnt be so stupid. America proved me wrong. In 2004 I assumed we were learning creatures. America proved me wrong again. Why should it be any different today?

Finally, there was one point in Obama's speech i'd like to point out while i'm up here on the soapbox. In talking about Rev Wright and the underlying frustrations the black community feel and seldomly express in public - "But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races." - I want to say one thing... What if - just for a moment - you applied that same nuanced thought process to Al Qaida - or the very least the Palestinian situation.

That - my friends - is the only way we'll get the peace W was on about in his hateful spew this morning... not with Bush's Cato the Elder 'make a desert and call it peace' - but until America can prove to me it's capable of understanding i'll assume the Obama candidacy is destined to be yet another in a long line of lost opportunities, practice playing the fiddle, and wait for someone to light the match.


fearlessvk said...

i've been reading reactions all over the internet to the speech, and i fear you are probably right that too many americans are simply unable to process this kind of seriousness, nuance, and complexity. i am not sure if the problem is so much that we are stupid, as that we are deeply, deeply immature. we're completely unable and unwilling to look into the dark parts of our history and the dark parts of our soul. we want quick and easy absolution, we want total righteousness vs. total evil, we want dull-witted pleasant optimism rather than a complicated relationship bewteen hope and despair, anger and forgiveness, trust and resentment.

when americans hear that there is a source or a reason behind anger or despair, they immediately get up in arms: 'stop playing victim! stop making excuses! history is history!' blah blah blah. there are obviously exceptions. i don't mean to make a blanket generalization. but the interwebs aren't giving me much hope this morning.

i thought the speech was really quite remarkable, for all the raesons you said - brave, even, for a mainstream politician. i am thinking of assigning it, alongside the full text of a jeremiah wright sermon, in my american political theory class in the fall.

which leads me to the next point..... that i don't really have a problem with much of what wright said, never mind obama. i agree with about 80% of it. i don't think the government was intentionally spreading aids as a tool of genocide, so, well, that's where i get off the train. but apart from that.......

living in memphis, the chasm between the black ghettos and the white condos just seems so unbridgeable. and our reflexive dismissal of black anger and rage as unamerican, as unjustifiable, as scary and racist and evil.... it just ensures that that chasm will never be bridged.

mccain's inauguration will be a very sad day.

GreatGoblin said...

On foreign soil i have walked streets of poverty that go so far beyond my experience of human suffering as to be incomprehensible...

And here at home, as we saw happen in NOLA where we as a nation were confronted with how we really treat those who've been swept aside for so very long...

whether it's stupidity or a stubborn unwillingness to accept 'facts' (from a book) that are uncomfortable to one's worldview - the net result is the same -- people making bad decisions that impact the rest of us.

The theory goes that the old social contract comes into play at some point - and whether through the continuing polarization of wealth we become a nation of slaves and slaveholders in all but name or FSM help us they let Jon loose upon the world... woe be us all for there will be great weeping and moaning and gnashing of teeth.

i'll have a large popcorn and a diet coke please...