18 Mar. 2008

Obama Goes Large

Even my US friends say that you should never underestimate the stupidity of the US voter. Barack Obama has gone out on a limb with a soaring speech that seeks to transform the level of political discourse (at least till Hillary is out of the way). Greg Sargent at TPM highlights this passage:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. 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. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”
Of course, there are still a few disturbing things about Obama, like the all-too-frequent evidence of US exceptionalism:
"I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."
Actually there are a lot of multicultural societies with a legacy of slavery. This bit was a little weird too:
"Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. "
Does that last expression have a different meaning in the USA? I wouldn't have thought you'd wanna go there!

Obama's speech reminds me of my own experience traveling through the southern States back in the late 1980's. I remember getting on a bus in San Antonio and feeling this very weird vibe: there was a group of black guys standing in the middle of the bus, chatting to each other in a slang I could barely recognise as English, and the body language of all the white people around them was just extraordinary. At that moment, I realised what a huge racial divide existed in the USA: these people might be sharing the same buses (something unthinkable just a few generations ago) but they were still living in totally separate worlds.

If Obama's candidacy does nothing more than bring these issues to the surface again, it will have been worthwhile.

NB: Watch closely how the media report this speech. For example SMH today runs an AFP feed with the headline "Obama refuses to disown fiery preacher". Fox News takes a similar line: "Obama Seeks to Stop Wright Coverage ‘Loop’".