Friday, March 21, 2008

Democrats' Decisions Shouldn't Turn on Race

There's something terribly wrong about the latest developments in this Democratic presidential primary race. It's becoming more and more apparent by the day and I'd be remiss if I didn't share my concern with fellow Democrats.

Recent statements made by Obama campaign surrogates [like John Kerry, who's never been politically sharp or quick] convey the clear and unapologetic opinion that Obama is the leader they choose, in good part, because of issues surrounding the color of his skin.

That's pretty sick.

To see the Democratic party becoming 'the race party' from their own politically correct standpoint is no better than Republicans who use race as a wedge and fear issue. I'm not alone in feeling this way.

I just read that Bill Richardson decided to endorse Barack Obama after he heard Obama's major speech on race. [ A bit of a betrayal and crucifixion for Richardson's former champion Hillary Clinton ..and done, most curiously, on Good Friday..I wonder if the name Judas is flying around the Clinton camp today? ]

From the NY Times:
Mr. Obama’s address on race in Philadelphia on Tuesday appeared to sway Mr. Richardson, who sent word to the senator that he was inspired and impressed by the speech, in which Mr. Obama called for an end to the “racial stalemate” that has divided Americans for decades.
You'd have to be nearly blind not to see new racial divisions being showcased in the media by the recent political actions and words of both Democratic campaigns and campaign surrogates in this primary race [while the media unfairly gets all the blame and the Republicans love every moment of it].

I wonder how Richardson's endorsement will fly with Hispanic voters? They were a particular racial group that, for the most part, got left out of Obama's major speech on race the other day.

I think I'm seeing Democrats setting themselves up for something that they never expected... at the expense of the racial progress that I believe we actually have been making. [It's the political progress that's been suffering because of a very weak Democratic leadership]. Pressing the issue of race and highlighting what divides us...making that a key part of the Obama candidacy...well, I couldn't think of anything more harmful to the political progress for which we'd have hoped.

If the Democratic leadership did expect this wedge issue and welcomes this new turn of events with this focus on race, I'm beginning to think we have some fools leading the party. Making race an attribute or test for the Oval Office is antithetical to my being a Democrat in the first place.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My thoughts on Obama's Major Speech

I've been cartooning a lot lately, using humor to convey to you what was, for me, the light-hearted side of my view of Barack Obama's major speech on race in America. I didn't want the opportunity to pass, however, for me to explain to my readers how I felt about what he had to say, because it isn't really a laughing matter. I chose to look at the speech in a most objective way, remembering that the man who was speaking is in the political battle of his lifetime. Obama's an excellent orator. His eloquence was to be expected. I was prepared to hear something marvelous from him before he got up to the podium. And I watched and listened...very closely. I'm sure there are many blogposts already out there about the speech and I know how inundated you've already become by the almost-nauseating media coverage. It's par for the course these days...much like theatre. As the blogger Digby wryly put it,
"I have a problem with these expected blog posts on expected speeches that the dynamics of 21st-century campaigns demand. This election has turned into some kind of bizarre series of rituals, like an season of Greek theater where everybody knows the plot and the audience is left to judge the work on the presentation."
I'm not the gushing kind. About the speech, you won't hear me say "It was Jeffersonian... Lincoln-ish. .... I laughed; I cried; it became a part of me..."

But for those of you who know know that I am from a family of more than one race myself. Some of you reading this have lived that life by my side. I've lived out this country's race issue in my own household. Here are some of my thoughts...

Taking the apples out of the old apple pie

I think the now-infamous video-snippets of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's words will continue to haunt Senator Obama's campaign for as long as he's running for the highest office in this land. It would be naive for anyone to think otherwise, as much as I'm loathe to have to admit that I think it's true. There will always be those shadow-interests who so fiercely oppose a Democrat taking the Oval Office that they'd do just about anything to keep it from a Democrat. In this case, I think that, unfortunately, all they'll have to do is continue repeating that dreadful "God-damn America" statement, something the detractors would've never even have to had manufactured in their dreams. It is what it is. It'll be interpreted in any one citizen's own unique way..each and every time they hear or see it. The tone enveloping Wright's words, based on the video snippets alone, context notwithstanding, sucks all the apples out of MSM-consuming moderate America's proverbial apple pie. It isn't fair - but it's there.

Religious leaders and political leaders aren't supposed to be roomates in the same moral echelon

I think a mistake may have been made by Obama in his speech by placing religious leadership and political leadership in the same moral echelon. Reverend Wright wasn't just another political campaign supporter [like Geraldine Ferraro was]. The title of 'Reverend' wasn't just there for show...he is and was a religious leader..a moral leader. Specifically, he was Obama's spiritual mentor for 20 years. That's a good chunk of a person's lifetime...especially in one's faith-formative years.

There's no more room for my own tolerance of pastors politicking in the 'Black' churches than there is in the 'White' churches

When politics and church went into the mixing bowl on what they called Justice Sunday at the primarily-white mega-churches, I can tell you that I had equal complaint. I've been publicly mocked for my strong opposition to Christian churches and Christian leaders crossing dangerous lines..bastardizing faith and being co-opted by worldly politics at the Sunday pulpit. The line between church and state that melts away in the process of a religious leader abusing his status as a man of God endangers all churchgoers and all Americans, regardless of color or creed.

Obama has admitted that his decision to run for POTUS was not exactly pre-planned or easily foreseen

Part of Obama's current problem is that he's told us that he wasn't thinking about the Presidency when he ran for (and won) a U.S. Senate seat. As soon as he got to D.C. and before he'd barely had a chance to stock his new desk with supplies, he'd decided to run for the top slot. While he tried hard yesterday to explain his positions in many ways - all crammed into one speech - I don't think it's unnatural of anyone to continue to question why, if Senator Obama had any aspirations whatsoever..even in the back of his mind... to seek the office of POTUS, that he never had "the talk" with Reverend Wright about his strongly negative public attitude toward affluent non-African Americans...especially after Reverend Wright had aimed and pointed that strong sentiment toward and against Hillary Clinton who is in the controversial political ring with Senator Obama at present. Did he think no one would ever capture it on this day and age? Fair or unfair, it isn't a stretch to picture a still-frustrated George Allen-supporter trying to frame this as a reverse 'macaca-moment'.

Some words about my own spiritual mentor

Thinking about Senator Obama's predicament and the ways in which he personalized it in his speech, I can only look back to my own 20-year spiritual mentor Monsignor Joseph Champlin, a beloved priest in Syracuse NY who lost in his battle with a rare cancer only two months ago. Never once in all the time I heard Father Champlin speak publicly or privately did he ever indicate or even give a hint as to whether he was Democrat or Republican. Never did a word pass his lips that could've been labled "racist words". He was the the founder of the Father Champlin Guardian Angel Society, a non-profit organization that, to this day, benefits the Cathedral School in Syracuse and the children in need of opportunity who are welcomed, mentored, and educated there. To thank him for making such a difference in the lives of others, President George W. Bush presented the President’s Volunteer Service Award to Father Champlin in Rochester, New York in 2006. Father Champlin baptized my son seventeen years ago and, week after week, he inspired my spirit and nourished my mind with his incredibly uplifting sermons that were never made at any fellow human being's expense, regardless of their skin color. Political words were not in Father Champlin's public vocabulary.

One of the greatest examples of his drive and caring for others was his running in my village's 5K race each and every Memorial Day. Even in the years when his cancer was getting the better of his body, his will was strong, buoyed by waves of justice, love, and community support.

I'd wager that Barack Obama also has a lot of stories he could tell about Reverend Wright to show what an incredible inspiration he's been to the Obama family. Unfortunately, every word we say in public has its own life..its own consequence.. once it passes our lips it's gone. What I'm saying right now will follow me.I accept that. Our actions, along with our failure to act when we know we should've acted, carries consequences.

When I think of my grassroots friends, many came from the same tradition as Senator Obama

The culture of the church attended by the Obama family was obviously quite different than what I've experienced as a Catholic in Central New York. I also know that I walk side-by-side in marches and political activities with many here in the African-American community. I proudly call them my friends. I call them family. I've been warmly welcomed by their churches on frigid Upstate nights to sit and talk about the political problems that face all of us. If they'd ever heard a race-tinged comment coming from their pastors, they've certainly never treated me as if they'd heard it or taken stock in the ideas behind such harsh words.

That's where I know Senator Obama's been getting a bum deal from the powers-that-be in the media and from the Right.

Obama has never said the words that Reverend Wright said himself. He's stuck between a rock and a political hard place .. being forced to dance around sensitive topics as directly and as earnestly as a political leader can dance around them.

But the "them" [the sensitive topics and Reverend Wright's YouTube performances] will still be the "them" after the dancing's done. I believe that Reverend Wright's going to have to come out and speak humbly if he cares enough for the ongoing integrity of Obama's candidacy and campaign...and I think he does. I think he's the only one who can dissolve this messy situation from the roots. He's not just some crazy old uncle. He's been a leader and mentor for Obama.

I regret to see that a speech on race is being used as a key speech at a time when there's a hot Democratic primary between two great candidates....but that doesn't mean that the words Obama spoke yesterday should be held back. I don't think the Democratic party, for the sake of its own health, needed to see full public advantage being taken to make this primary about the divisive topic of race when the divisive issue of white female v. African-American male are already a mountain of "change". As a Democrat, I'm becoming more unhappy about it by the day.

In all fairness to Barack Obama

The Obama race speech, on its own, doesn't suddenly make Obama the best candidate for President in my eyes. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said what needed to be said at a time when it needed to be heard and he wasn't running for public office. Like Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Dr. King was a pastor.

I look to careful places for my spiritual guidance and not Washington, D.C., but for a decidedly much more secular youth in today's Democratic party, who knows? Perhaps Obama is the spiritual guru that's missing in their lives.

I think Obama stepped into his old pastor's shoes yesterday and made amends for him.. and perhaps atoned for some of Rev Wright's decidedly stale views on social progress. But why should it have been Obama to have to clear that up?

The grassroots will need some nourishing, regardless of who becomes the Democratic nominee. Yesterday's speech from Obama reminded me of mistletoe, which grows at the top of the trees. The great Sufi leader, Idries Shah once said about the phenomenon and metaphor of mistletoe:

"Mistletoe is green year-round, even while the trees wherein it resides has lost its sap. Mistletoe is self engrafted. It ensures its perpetuation by feeding off the tops of branches of the great trees, and thus stays alive and green - even when the tree sleeps. The Burning Bush from which God appeared to Moses in the desert is thought by some Biblical scholars to have been an acacia glorified by the red leaves of a locanthus, the Eastern equivalent of mistletoe."
By pointing to and feeding off the top branches of the angels of America's better nature, pointing out that certain individual traditions - whether political or religious - lose much of their sap [or modern usefulness] after time has passed, Obama took some focus off the roots and pointed to what is highest...the mistletoe...the way we need to go.

That was the great good of his speech, whether or not he becomes nominee.

John Edwards Is Still the Heart of Progress

See this CBS News story .. [LINK]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Race to the Finish

Is Obama Putting Own Interests Before Michigan Voters?

Our silly hypocrisy moment today leads us on a walk down memory lane...Let the People Vote! by the Obama campaign-supporting Senator John Kerry, who decried the Clinton position before the Las Vegas caucus two short months ago when he said:
"For too many years, American politics has been divided between two types of people: those who want more people to vote, and those who want fewer people to vote.

UPDATE: ... Now we hear that the original Soviet-style vote in Michigan may be the only one that will stand as proof of any semblance of an election when these so-called party leaders had the fairest alternative in front of them?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who's Playing Cards? Mystery, Myth and Mugging

..and just when you thought we might have gotten past it, tomorrow Obama promises to deal you yet another card [sneak peek here]

We Shall Not Walk Alone

Whatever it is you believe in your heart, it's all about faith, my darling brothers and sisters.
It's all about faith.

T Takes: Short Film Fest at NYT

A heads-up for film fans. A special feature at the New York Times website called "T Takes" is a short film series shot by the emerging New York writer and director Brody Baker during the recent Sundance festival. There are 12 short films, one to be featured each weekday at 10 am, that were conceived to be viewed sequentially and feature stars such as Boston Legal's Saffron Burrows, Michael Pitt and Lukas Haas.

The first installment of 'Take' featuring Josh Hartnett has been posted today.

As a Band of Horses fan [ you know them from the Ford Edge commercial ], I enjoyed the "Is There a Ghost" music video here [left bottom corner].

Ben Stein Disturbed by Spitzer Ruin

"Having elected officials kicked out of office by appointed officials is a very dicey proposition."
- Ben Stein on the fall of Eliot Spitzer

Sunday, March 16, 2008