random leftover thoughts on the race-obama speech

The contemporary American right is always railing (correctly in many instances) about the politicization of all aspects of life as a cardinal contemporary liberal sin. Nothing is keep free from the corruption of politics (as it were). Nothing is held sacred.

So of course at the first drop of the hat, they will go about politicizing a guy’s church and his pastor for political gain.

Douthat makes a legitimate point in this post when he says that the NRO crowd’s criticism of Obama is that he’s isn’t movement conservative enough for them. Of course–duh.

But a more cynical side of me thinks that while Ross’ point is valid, it misses the bigger issue. This isn’t about a fair fight. This is about a media image and narrative that the right finally believes it has found its weapon against Obama who previously had a teflon quality about him.

While the media and the blog reaction mostly focuses on the race issue, and not wanting to paper that over (cuz I do think its in play here), it is really more of what I would call the political purity test. It was fascinating in the Newt Gingrich interview he said (amongst a litany of sins) committed by Rev. Wright his words were “anti-American.” He didn’t raise the issue whether they were correct or incorrect or even if partially correct wrongly voiced. They were simply anti-American and that was that. And frankly in US society, he’s right. He doesn’t need to argue that anti-American is somehow wrong. It simply is verboten.

It is not the politicization that is really at issue–this element of the right is willing to break that rule as soon as it scores them points–its a certain kind of politicization they can’t stomach or don’t want to see. Fair enough. But make that point. Don’t be hypocritical about it. Just as for the social cons they are always wanting more religion in the public life–until say that religion is an angry black man saying that America is not exactly always occupying the pinnacle of moral high ground when it comes murder of civilians given its the only country in history to use atomic weapons on civilian populations. As soon as that comes out, thank you very much, less religion in public they say.

This other line about why Obama didn’t leave the church. The American Christian experience on the positive side–thanks to the Revolution and its democratizing effect on the churches--is one of freedom of religious worship. More so than elsewhere–though the US again is imperfect (Mass. still had a state church until I believe 1837).

The shadow/downside of increased freedom of worship is increased sectarianism. The freedom comes at the cost of fragmentation. Now I’m not advocating a superimposed solution (i.e. state church).

Combined with a consumer mindset and modernist ethos which makes the individual the supreme judge and arbiter, what this does is creates a series of homogeneous churches: ethnically, politically, denominationally. If you don’t like X church or X pastor’s views you go to the next church down the street–in the Protestant traditions that was more typically true but is increasingly the case in Roman Catholic churches as well.

At its worst, the church exists then to make people feel good about themselves and when it stops doing that, then they go to another one or leave altogether. Or if not good, at least comfortable and doesn’t rock their boat/world.

As a Christian, as a theology student, that is the primary reason why so many churches are not really preaching the Gospel I would say but rather are essentially social clubs with religious-y music. And that goes for so-called liberal or conservative churches.

The best churches I have been to are ones where people from different walks and viewpoints–some quite radically so–form a community of love and worship and service.

At its best, the Black American Church is quite different in this regard. It is the conscious bearer of black culture, resistance, and identity. The white churches bear white culture, they just don’t realize its white culture (it’s just culture because its the de facto norm and dominant mode in society). And as such–and you heard this in Obama’s speech–there is a deep value placed on staying true to the people, to the community.

As I said elsewhere, a part of me actually appreciates very much that Obama didn’t chuck his church at the first sign (“pre-emptively denounce/disown” in the media parlance) of the church being a politically liability for him. Had he done that he would have been a flip-flopper. So again it’s not a rational conversation in many quarters.

All that being said, I think the best critique of Obama’s speech is from Jay Cost (h/t Ross Douthat). Cost points out that Obama has a shrewd sense of the problem at hand–in his own church and in the wider public–and the quibbling about not having all the conservative check list points on affirmative action or whatever aside, one is still left wondering if he has a sense of a way out or not.

A similar argument could be made I suppose on his positions regarding Iraq, health care, etc. An argument similar to the one Hillary has made, except when she makes it is doesn’t work because she has no more experience (actually technically less) than he does and has run an awful campaign, has a weak people around her. Which is why she has been shall I put this delicately…stretching the truth on her influence on all sorts of things. So she’s out.

And McCain also shows a deep laziness around policy issues, around the substance of debates (like is Iran helping al-Qaeda or not). He’s an empty shell in a lotta ways, so while Cost has his point, the comparison practically in this race is—whom exactly?

As best as I can tell, Obama has looked cool under pressure, sounded sane on a lot of issues, had forward thinking visions. But yeah I’m taking a leap on his ability to execute. His judgment I trust (he saw Iraq clearly which only makes him a regularly smart guy but in the Washington world given the stupidities of the political and chattering class makes him look like a genius). Still good judgment doesn’t mean translate into effective policy execution. But again, as compared to McCain and Clinton, I don’t see I have a choice except to go for him.

Update I: Peter Suderman (here) at American Scene makes some similar points on the sticking with the community theme.

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm  Comments (2)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://indistinctunion.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/random-leftover-thoughts-on-the-race-obama-speech/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting perspective. Good call about Gingrich. He was unyielding in that, and it was clever.

    Much is made over Clinton’s vote for the war (a position I always opposed) but in all fairness, given the hysteria around Sept. 11 and the fact that is the Senator from New York, it is far more understandable that she took the position than many others. Her constituents were told the pack of lies that Iraq was with Al Qaeda and she was elected by them. Obama wasn’t in the Senate then, but he voted for financial support for the war everytime it came up for several years. I believe him when he says he wasn’t for it, but he was saving his political self too. He’s a clever and pragmatic person. You don’t graduate from Harvard Law School and become a corporate lawyer (same career path as Clinton who went to Yale) without learning how to be shrewd.

  2. Fair enough. Thanks for the comment hpost.

    I would still say that Hillary’s line that she didn’t think she was voting for the war but rather inspectors is just nonsense.

    peace. cj

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: