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The L Word

No, not that L Word. This is a different one, but one which, at least in the political sphere, seems to be just as taboo.

Here’s a hint. Remember when Obama suggested to some people at a rally that if they wanted to decrease the amount of gas they used, they should make sure their tires were properly inflated and their engines were tuned up? McCain (and every other Republican, by some odd coincidence) yukked it up over how Obama’s energy plan was all about getting those tires inflated. They were even offering “Obama Energy Plan” tire inflation gauges for donations of $25 to the McCain campaign. As of the writing of this post, the offer was still up:

tire gauge

Obama’s response to this latest bit of levity from the right was just perfect:

I’m sure you caught the “l word” in there, but if not, I’ll make it easier in my next example. The McCain campaign put out this new video today:

Here’s a piece of a Los Angeles Times article on the video and the Obama campaign’s response to it:

The Obama campaign immediately denounced the ad.

“This ad is a lie and it’s part of the old, tired politics of a party in Washington that has run out of ideas and run out of steam,” said spokesman Hari Sevugan.

The Obama campaign has been smarting from McCain’s attack on his celebrity, which compares the Illinois senator to Paris Hilton. The charge is that Obama lacks the experience to lead the nation and is out of touch with most people’s economic difficulties.

To support its claim, the McCain campaign cites two Obama votes in favor of a budget resolution. Obama’s yes vote means he voted in favor of ending the Bush tax cuts, “effectively raising taxes on those making $41,500 in total income.”

The Obama camp has repeatedly complained that McCain is distorting Obama’s position on taxes. The vote was for a non-binding budget resolution that did not include any tax increase, though it does assume that the Bush tax cuts will end. It bears no relation to the tax plan that Obama has announced, his campaign said.

“Even though a host of independent, nonpartisan organizations have said this attack isn’t true, Sen. McCain continues to lie about Sen. Obama’s plan to give 95% of all families a tax cut of $1,000, and not raise taxes for those making under $250,000 a single dime,” the Obama campaign argued. “The reason so many families are hurting today is because we’ve had eight years of failed Bush policies that Sen. McCain wants to continue for another four, and that’s what Barack Obama will change as President.”

Finally, this isn’t coming from the Obama campaign, but check out McCain’s bronze medal win on tonight’s Countdown:

“John McCain either lies or can’t tell the difference between reality and stuff he dreamed or imagined. Those are not two good options.” I say we stick with option 1. If we start labeling these obvious falsehoods as cases of McCain getting confused, they’ll claim we’re playing the age card — the wrinkly, white-haired age card. If we accuse McCain of lying (which is what I think he’s doing most of the time, except in the cases where he starts repeating words like he’s lost his place), their only real defense will be to say that the Senator just misspoke… again. Those self-proclaimed errors are going to add up pretty quickly if they’re not willing to admit to just making shit up.

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Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

No, this post is not about Mao, or even Billy Bragg. Rather, it’s about an advance I have to admit I’d waited for all my life, and had frankly given up on seeing come to fruition. Why? Because it’s an advance on the eye of hell, where things change pretty damned slowly. In fact, the advance is in advertising on the eye of hell, where things, for the most part, don’t change at all.

I wrote a couple of years ago (yikes! I’ve been blogging for two years!) that words like “period” and “menstruation” had finally started replacing “time of the month,” although such things are still visually represented by blue fluid. This is easily as big as that.

Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing bottleI think I was about 10 or 11 when I first noticed the problem. I’d see ads that spoke of a special little town called Hidden Valley, where the kids never complained about eating their vegetables, because they all came with a thick coating of mayonnaisey spoodge that made them oh-so-tasty. I’d be watching these packs of kids happily downing their dripping broccoli, and it occurred to me that they were all white! The happy town of Hidden Valley was restricted!

Well, this week I saw an ad for Hidden Valley in which the veggie-lovin’ local kids were crowding around what looked like an ice cream truck, which in fact, served cones of salad drowning in the glory that is ranch dressing. And among those kids, I was astonished to see one or two of African descent! At last, these children were being judged not by the color of their skin, but of the content of their salad cones! It was beautiful.

Of course, salad dressing is just one example of the long list of products that have been segregated on the eye of hell all these long years. For decades, Madison Avenue has tried to convince us that separate detergents, fast food establishments, shoes, and pet foods could be equal. Those days may at last be gone.

eHarmony logoThink about dating services. For as long as they’ve advertised on the eye of hell, they’ve demonstrated their successes by showing us couples who always just happened to share ethnicity along with chemistry. Was it a decades-long series of coincidences, like the coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? I doubt it. I don’t know if they ever had rules regarding interracial couples, and if they did, I don’t know when those rules changed, but on the eye of hell, it had always clearly been a strict “no miscegenation” policy.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for eHarmony (one of the first, I believe, to do without the presence of Dr. Neil Clark Warren) in which a black man was shown next to a set of three thumbnail images of women, apparently representing the choices picked for him by their computer. Two of them were black, but one was white.

Then, just last week, I saw a spot for the service that showed three happy couples, two of which were of mixed ethnicity. Wow.

I have to wonder what the cause of this long-delayed advance might be. I suppose it’s possible that the fact that we’re (hopefully) on the verge of electing our first mixed-race president might be an indication to the ad execs that we just might be ready for such a radical concept. I really don’t know, but I’m glad to see it finally happening.

Next up: gender roles and sexuality. Don’t hold your breath.

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A Modest Proposal for Karl Rove

Dear Karl,

Remember back in 2000, when John McCain won the New Hampshire primary and it looked like he was going to roll on to the Republican nomination? Remember what you did to add a little friction to his momentum?

Karl RoveRove invented a uniquely injurious fiction for his operatives to circulate via a phony poll. Voters were asked, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” This was no random slur. McCain was at the time campaigning with his dark-skinned daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh.

It worked. Owing largely to the Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign, Bush prevailed in South Carolina and secured the Republican nomination. The rest is history — specifically the tragic and blighted history of our young century. It worked in another way as well. Too shaken to defend himself, McCain emerged from the bruising episode less maverick reformer and more Manchurian candidate.

You know how good you are, don’t you Karl? McCain knows it too, and that’s why he’s taking the advice of you and your acolytes, even after stating in 2000 that there must be “a special place in hell” reserved for you lot.

I’ve got a little tip for you, and I think it’s going to help McCain big-time. What if we spread a rumor that Barack Obama has two black babies? Can you imagine how that would trash his image? Having two black babies is twice as bad as having one. Nobody’s going to vote for Obama when they hear about this, whether it’s true or not.

Two. Black. Babies. Wow.

I’m just amazed you didn’t come up with this one yourself, Karl. I hope you’re not going soft in your old age.

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Doubleplus Ungood

My last post made reference to this advert from the McCain campaign:

The claim that Obama went to the gym rather than visiting wounded military personnel, was, of course, utter crap. Was it a lie? You could say so, but it was more a matter of implication than falsehood. That is, it implied that Obama decided that, since they wouldn’t let him bring in cameras and use the troops as campaign props, he decided it wasn’t worth his while to visit them at all. Had they come out and said that in the ad, it would have been a lie, but instead, all they did was imply it.

But now it’s come out that, whether Obama had made the visit or not, the McCain camp was ready to attack him for whichever choice he made:

What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was…wait for it…using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.

That’s inexcusable.

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Angie and Barack Sitting in a Tree

You all remember this lovely metaphor for America’s relationship with our close ally, Germany, during the Bush administration:
Bush tries to massage Angela Merkel

It looks like, should all go according to plan, things are going to be different in the future. According to Reuters, Angela Merkel was asked yesterday, before she’d met Barack Obama, what she thought of him.

Merkel responded: “I would say that he is well-equipped — physically, mentally and politically.”

Physically? Um… OK.

She was further asked, in reference to the image above, whether she expected more massages from the next American president.

“That’s not really up to me,” she joked. “But I wouldn’t resist.”

Heh. Just what are we supposed to make of that? I’m hoping she’s just toying with the media’s preoccupation with personality and celebrity rather than real political issues. I really, really hope that’s it, because I’d hate to think Merkel’s thinking of relations with a US president who’s… hot. Because when I think of that, I feel like this:
Bush tries to massage Angela Merkel

Ein Tipp der Hut to Blue Gal.

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Clinton’s Blessing

All the pundits over at MSNBC are debating themselves about whether tonight is going to be about Obama declaring himself the nominee, or Clinton celebrating her own campaign and stealing his thunder.

But maybe they’re missing something. Clinton is going to be speaking at Baruch College. Here’s the school’s release about it.

New York, NY – June 3, 2008 – Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will address throngs of supporters at a celebration marking the close of the Democratic Party’s primary election season this evening at Baruch College’s Athletics and Recreation Center (ARC).

The event is scheduled to begin at 7 PM. The ARC will be closed to students and the general public at 3 PM, and the 24th Street entrance to the Newman Vertical Campus will be open for ticketed guests at 6 PM. Students, faculty, and staff should use the 25th Street entrance for classes and other events after 6 PM.

The Clinton campaign website indicates that tickets are no longer available for the speech. The major news channels are expected to provide live coverage of the event.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign team chose Baruch College as the site of their primary election season finale.

They chose Baruch. I wonder why they chose Baruch over all the other places they could have held the address…

The word “baruch” is related to brucha, meaning a blessing in Hebrew. It’s also the equivalent of the Arabic and Swahili “barack.”

See where I’m going with this? Is Clinton going to give Obama her blessing tonight?

Updated, Three Hours Later

Yeah, maybe not.

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Hillary ClintonThat’s what a former boss of mine used to call it, and he grew up there, in the teeming metropolis of Boiling Springs, so I’m sure he always meant it in a positive way. Well, maybe not.

I’ve got my own slight connections to that other commonwealth: my family lived in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, while my father was working as a civilian at a military hospital, so apparently Philly is (or at least was, at the time) more pleasant than Viet Nam, where he would have been otherwise. As I understand it, we moved back to Brooklyn (the source of all life) a few months before I was born, so while I’ve never lived in Pennsylvania, I did gestate there.

I also attempted to go to college down there, but those snooty snobs at the U of P wait-listed me, then turned me down. Hmph.

I’ve got a good friend who grew up in Pittsburgh, but he got out of there and lives in London now.

Does it seem like I’m in a position to speak objectively about Pennsylvania? Nah. Screw those people.

I won’t get into my thoughts about the results of yesterday’s primary, as it would obviously just be a big, drippy case of sour grapes. But I do want to comment on Clinton’s victory speech:

The Guardian referred to this speech as “defiant” and “passionate.” I guess I missed that. It seems to me the speech is incredibly clumsy. She’s not connecting with the audience, even though they’re clearly on her side. Their cheering seems to get in her way, and she never seems to be comfortable in deciding whether to continue speaking over them, recognize the cheering, or join in.

As the goat said upon finding out he couldn’t afford the lederhosen, “I bet they would have chafed, anyway.”

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Kristol Klarity

Bill KristolI’ve written about this weasel before. I guess I find it amusingly ironic that someone with the name “Kristol” would see it as his duty to muddy issues — to make them anything but crystal clear.

Let’s look at the weasel’s latest spray of piss in the Times. Billy boy writes…

Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

“It’s not surprising then that they get bitter…” Does that clause seem a little odd to you? What’s the “then” for? Ah, of course. Rule #1 in the mudslinger’s handbook: if you’re going to quote your target, be sure to take it out of context. So maybe we should look at the full quote:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

There’s your “then.” Whether you agree with the statement or not, at least you understand the history that Obama is blaming for the situation. I can see why his opponents and their supporters would jump all over this. It’s incredibly easy to grab that last sentence and claim it’s equivalent to something like, “I need to find a way to tell these simple-minded rednecks that I can help them.”

But you need to think about the source. If I had said this (if I were stupid enough to try to run for elective office), it would be pretty safe to conclude that I meant it the way people are describing it. But that’s because I’m an atheist, I would support an effort to rewrite the second amendment to make it clear that it’s not about private ownership of guns, I feel thoroughly alienated when I’m in the Midwest (and I felt that way for the year and a half that I lived there), and frankly, I’m not particularly patriotic. I don’t personally think of myself as an elitist, but that’s just my opinion. But if I were a politician and I said something like that, I think it’s fair to say that my opponents would be justified in saying about me what they’re saying about Obama.

I’m not Obama. I didn’t lose my father when I was a baby. I didn’t lose my mother when I was a teenager. I wasn’t raised by my grandparents. I didn’t go to school on scholarships. For the most part, my parents paid my way. And I’m not a Christian. He is.

When the weasel compares Obama to Marx, he knows that it’s not applicable.

…[I]t’s one thing for a German thinker to assert that “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature.” It’s another thing for an American presidential candidate to claim that we “cling to … religion” out of economic frustration.

And it’s a particularly odd claim for Barack Obama to make. After all, in his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, he emphasized with pride that blue-state Americans, too, “worship an awesome God.”

What’s more, he’s written eloquently in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” of his own religious awakening upon hearing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s “Audacity of Hope” sermon, and of the complexity of his religious commitment. You’d think he’d do other believers the courtesy of assuming they’ve also thought about their religious beliefs.

I agree. It doesn’t make sense. If I’d said it, no problem, because you’re not going to find a record of me saying the opposite. If Obama says it, considering his history, you can conclude that either his apparent respect for religion for the past twenty years has been an attempt to fool people, you can conclude that, for some reason, he wasn’t being honest to the people he was speaking with that day, or you can conclude that what Obama’s quoted as saying in California has some meaning other than the easily attacked “elitist” interpretation. See, weasel? More than one easy conclusion, and the one that you, your pals at Fox, McCain and Clinton have chosen, it seems to me, is the one that makes the least sense. Why would a religious person believe that religion is the opiate of the masses?

But whatever you choose to believe, don’t you have to wonder what Obama’s point was in making the statement in question? What does it mean that these people who didn’t experience much if any of the growth of the national economy during good times, and who’ve borne the brunt of bad economic periods more than most others happen to put a lot of reliance in (that is, “cling to”) the elements of their lives about which they feel most secure?

It’s pretty simple, if you ask me. They’re the Reagan Democrats. They’re a big part of the people who’ve been targeted for decades by operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. And what strategy was used on those people? Take the aspects of their lives that these people rely on, and scare them into thinking that your political opponents plan to take them away. Make them believe they’re going to lose their guns, that there’s a plot to seriously weaken their religious freedoms, or that their bitterness is the fault of someone other than the government that’s ignored them and the corporations that used them and then threw them away. In other words, they’re the people who receive nothing more than pandering and lip service from most politicians, who play on their fears to turn them into single-issue voters.

With that in mind, look at how Obama’s opponents and detractors have responded to what he said: they’ve denied that there’s any truth in his statement, and they’ve told the people he spoke of that they’re not bitter at all; that they’re proud, godly people with strong traditions. That is to say, they’ve pandered to them and blamed their troubles on someone else. Clinton in particular has tried to get their votes (most of which she already had) by pretending to be one of them and convincing them that people like Obama (the “elite”) are the enemy. She’s giving them one issue to override any other issue they may have been considering, hoping it will scare them enough to get them to vote for the alternative to the enemy she’s pointed out to them. And who is that alternative?

Atwater would be proud.

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A More Perfect Union

This is a truly great speech. If you can, don’t think about the reason it became necessary to give the speech. Whatever the reason behind it, the speech itself is important. I don’t think there’s a single American alive who can’t relate to what Obama is discussing here, whether they agree with his politics or not.

Try to imagine, after what we’ve been through with the current administration, what it would be like for this man to represent us for the rest of the world. Imagine him speaking to the UN, or giving a State of the Union address.

We can’t pass on this opportunity. We can actually have an intelligent, well-intentioned president who believes in the country’s potential and isn’t afraid of speaking about how we sometimes fail to meet that potential.

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

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.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. 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. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

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.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. 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 occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. 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. 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.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

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.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. 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 it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

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 the 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.

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.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

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.” 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.

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.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one 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.

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.

Anyway, 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.”

“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.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

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Kristol Meth

Bill KristolJust look at that weasel. Would you trust a word that slithered out of his mouth? Could there possibly be a smarmier smile in the world? That’s the same smile he displays on Fox when he’s saying utterly amoral, uncaring things about people whose lives mean nothing to him unless they serve to offer power or profit. This is the founder of the Project for a New American Century, for fuck’s sake — the people who a decade ago planned and promoted preemptively taking out Saddam Hussein as part of a plan to recreate the Middle East and further establish the US as the preeminent power in the world. That sure worked out well.

I don’t know why the New York Fucking Times hired Kristol to write a column. I guess David Brooks wasn’t enough of a right wing water carrying weasel to make them feel like their Op Ed section was sufficiently balanced. But I’m hoping that they’ll eventually come to the conclusion that any paper that carries Kristol’s propagandistic claptrap is a right wing paper. There’s no such thing as balance when it comes to this weasel.

Did you see the crap he spewed into today’s paper?

Last October, a reporter asked Barack Obama why he had stopped wearing the American flag lapel pin that he, like many other public officials, had been sporting since soon after Sept. 11. Obama could have responded that his new-found fashion minimalism was no big deal. What matters, obviously, is what you believe and do, not what you wear.

But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin. But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest.

Fuck you. Let’s go through his many salient points.

  • Obama was asked why he wasn’t wearing the pin. It’s not as if he announced it himself.
  • Yes, he could have said that it was no big deal — that it was just a fashion choice. But apparently, that would have been a lie. Besides, I have to wonder how the right wing propagandists would have responded to him treating Old Glory like it was nothing but a fashion statement.
  • Why should we leave aside the idea that speaking out on issues is a sign or a form of patriotism? That was Obama’s whole point. He was asked why he didn’t wear the pin, and he said that, in his opinion (note that he said “I think”), wearing the pin had lost the meaning it was intended to carry, and that he saw patriotism as something you speak and act on rather than wear a symbol of. If you want to leave that aside, then there’s nothing worth discussing.
  • Ah, but the weasel finds something else worthy of discussion: that Obama’s answer to the question was “grandiose”. What was that quote again?

    You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.

    That’s grandiose? Were there trumpets playing behind him? Did the people who heard him bow down in obeisance of his glorious pronouncement? Maybe somebody put an ermine cape over his shoulders and scattered rose petals at his feet. I don’t know. The words alone certainly don’t seem grandiose to me.

  • Was he saying something about the people who choose to wear the pin? Not really. It seems to me he was saying that, if one wishes to demonstrate one’s patriotism, wearing a flag pin no longer accomplishes that because its meaning has been so diluted. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to wear the pin; it just doesn’t, in his opinion, say as much as actual words and deeds. Personally, I think the vast majority of the people who wear the pin do so out of a shallow desire to be seen as patriotic, whether they are or not, because they don’t want to have to actually prove their love of country. But that’s my opinion, not Obama’s.

The weasel goes on to quote Michelle Obama:

“Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.”

But they can be repaired. Indeed, she had said a couple of weeks before, in Los Angeles: “Barack Obama … is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

So we don’t have to work to improve our souls. Our broken souls can be fixed — by our voting for Barack Obama. We don’t have to fight or sacrifice to help our country. Our uninvolved and uninformed lives can be changed — by our choosing Barack Obama. America can become a nation to be proud of — by letting ourselves be led by Barack Obama.

Fuck you, weasel. That has got to be the most ineffective effort at twisting someone’s words I’ve ever seen. She’s telling people that for the change Obama talks about to happen, we all have to work. We have to shed our cynicism, put down our divisions, come out of our isolation, move out of our comfort zones, push ourselves to be better and engage. The point was that we need to be involved, informed, and active. Weasel somehow wants us to take that to mean that she’s claiming we can all lay back and do nothing, and Saint Barack will take care of everything. Does he think the readers of the Times are at a second-grade level in reading comprehension? Does he think that starting to read one sentence requires us to clear the previous ones from our minds?

Fucking lying weasel.

By the way, CNN had a piece yesterday that included Obama’s response to some of the lies that people (and the weasel) are trying to spread about him.

Asked how he would fight the image of being unpatriotic, Obama said, “There’s always some nonsense going on in general elections. Right? If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. If you recall, first it was my name. Right? That was a problem. And then there was the Muslim e-mail thing and that hasn’t worked out so well, and now it’s the patriotism thing.

“The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country,” he said.

About not wearing an American flag lapel pin, Obama said Republicans have no lock on patriotism.

“A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?

“That is a debate I am very happy to have. We’ll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism.”

OK, weasel? Now shut the fuck up.

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