Saturday, March 22, 2008

Further Thoughts on Obama's Speech on Racism: Its Lasting Significance, and the Need to Keep Politics and Religion Separate

I offered my first impressions on Tuesday of Obama's speech on racism - I said it struck me as an extraordinarily frank and important step forward in America's struggle to understand and overcome racism, and may in the long run make the damage done to Obama's campaign by his relationship with Rev. Wright insignificant.

I've tried to let this settle in. Here's what I think about all of this now:

1. I'm more convinced that ever that Obama's speech was a major, unprecedented, and ultimately enormously helpful breakthrough on racism in America. I think we'll be seeing the good consequences of Obama's probe of racism - of whites to blacks, and blacks to whites - for years to come. It's nothing but helpful to get these issues - the resentments, the ways of talking and thinking - out into the open, on the table. Obama's speech has been compared to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," but, in some ways, Obama's may be even more important in our current day and age. King's was a magnificent plea for justice and hope and courage. Obama's was the beginning of an astute analysis, a dialog, for just why that's so difficult to accomplish. Both are surely needed. But what Obama has contributed was pretty much missing until now.

2. What of Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright? It occurs to me that our wise Founding Fathers were at their wisest when they insisted on separation of Church and State. Politics and religion do not mix well, because the first is completely public, and the second, in its deepest and more important elements, is private. All I need to understand is Obama's - or any candidate's - political positions. Not their religious beliefs and actions. This is because I don't think I really can understand anyone's deepest religious beliefs, or lack of, except my own and those of close members of my family. In my case, for example, I'm culturally Jewish - my family and I enjoy celebrating the holidays. I don't put much faith into the religious teachings. I wouldn't put any rabbi's advice above any other person I deemed to be intelligent. My deepest religious beliefs are transcendentalist - similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson's - that is, I think that if there is a divine force in the cosmos, it expresses itself through every human being. I recognize that there is much that I and no human is likely to ever understand - such as what existed before the beginning of the universe - but I don't know if that recognition is something I should pray to.

So - what does this have to with my political views and actions? Not much, as far as I can tell. And I think Obama's similarly have little to do with kind of President he would be. True, Obama's pastor Wright did make outrageous political statements - such as America getting what it deserved on September 11 - but there is nothing in Obama's record that suggests that he agrees with such a view even in the slightest.

So I am comfortable with leaving Obama's religious beliefs and actions to Obama, and judging what he does, and says he will do, politically.

And, on that score, Obama's speech about racism leads me to believe he will be a great President. I hope the people who are voting in the remaining primaries, and then the super delegates, see that. And I expect America as a whole will see that in November.
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