Thanks to the magic of YouTube I just experienced Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union Speech”. I knew he had delivered it, I knew the reasons why and had read or heard various commentaries– some providing thunderous applause and others citing flaws. But I had not listened to it myself. So after a long day, a bit of dinner and 30 minutes of “Dancing With The Stars”, it was time.
It was fantastic. Not in a Hollywood magic bigger than life personality way. He is capable of that. His more matter-of-fact delivery belied the manner in which he addressed very complex issues with richness of thought rarely heard these days.
First he set the context for his thoughts by describing the challenges that the founders of this country had in setting the course for our country. The words on the pages were right, such as equal citizenship under the law, but to achieve consensus they excluded an entire portion of the people who already were a part of the nation.
He then addressed his relationship with his pastor, a man who has been public with hateful thoughts. It would have been easy, even expected for Obama to admonish the man as well as the words and distance himself in order to support his campaign. Instead he denounced the rhetoric but painted a picture of a multifaceted man and church community built upon the black experience in America. People of contradictions. There was much good but also some hate. He acknowledged that and rightly pointed this out as a common experience among whites.
He went on to call out the need for continued dialogue on the race issue but called on all Americans to begin to focus on common problems. The economy, the poor qualityu of our education, healthcare and global warming. These are problems that have no color. He spoke of the hope for our country. That we have improved and can do so more.
That’s what he spoke about but why did I find the speech fantastic?
He did not dumb down his thoughts to the simplistic themes and easy sound bites so popular these days. He made us listen to the complexity of issues, of personal relationships, and of people. We are complex, multifaceted and often contradictory. I have yet met no person or people that is all wrong or all right, any issue that is merely black or white. (Pun only modestly intended.)
He did not do the safe thing.
He brought dialogue to the situation. Far too often we are entrenched in our views. This entrenchment leads to hate. To a culture of I am right and you are wrong. We need more intelligent discussion. To not be afraid to state our opinions.
This is not just a white American/African-American issue. I can go nowhere without hearing languages and seeing clothes that I did not know from my childhood. I grew up in a very American/western European centric world. Now what I hear are words that sound Asian, eastern European or African. I now pass women in saris, male Muslims in skullcaps or people in turbans. All this without traveling outside the metropolitan area.
We have had over 200 years to address the black vs. white issues. We now need to address the Judeo-Christian vs. Muslim issues and recognize the differences between the radicals and the rest. No stereotypes. No prejudgements. Get to know someone not like you. This is what I read into Barack Obama’s speech.
After almost eight years of a mind numbing President that has had trouble stringing a few coherent thoughts together it was delightful to listen to a mind expanding man who makes us think.
It is worth the 37 minutes.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune:
On Tuesday, Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, weighed in directly, saying: “I think that given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor.”
This is what I meant by taking the easy way out. Cut and run to placate voters is easy. Addressing complex issues and relationships in an intelligent way is leadership.