Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Are Americans ready for civilized, intelligent debate on the issues?

Senator Obama spoke yesterday about the complex issue of race in the United States. Both black and white Americans need to understand and appreciate the fears of frustrations of the other community. Everyone should know our ugly history on racial matters but also appreciate the progress that has been made. Everyone should come to appreciate that neither the black or white communities are monolith – each entail great complexity. Only then can we have a civilized, intelligent debate. Are Americans ready? Senator Obama seems to think so because by appealing to the intelligence and decency of the American people, he has placed his fate in their hands

Here are Michelle Goldberg’s thoughts in the Guardian:

Americans have endured election after election in which endlessly amplified talking heads have harped on risible questions of style and shallow analysis of dubious microtrends (Microtrends, of course, being the title of a book by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist). Who can forget all the blathering about Al Gore's embrace of earth tones and the implications for his masculinity? Or speculation as to whether John Kerry's windsurfing would sink him? George Bush had to drive the nation into multi-fronted catastrophe before we stopped hearing about what a fine beer-drinking companion he would make (and that despite the fact that he's a teetotaling recovering alcoholic.)

Worse, in our recent history the pundits' speculations have too often proved correct.

Maybe they've been self-fulfilling. Americans have, time and again, regarded symbolic blunders as more important than life-or-death policy mistakes. To witness the last few US elections was to be convinced that HL Mencken was right when he said: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." Political consultants clearly believe this, for all their mawkish paeans to everyman. And so they make politics as idiotically simple as they understand - with reason - Americans themselves to be.

Obama rejects this with everything he does. The hope at the center of his campaign is that Mencken was wrong, and Obama's success at the polls has tempted more than a few out of their carapace of cynicism.

In his speech today, he showed that he believes that Americans are capable of hearing about the frustrated rage of black people without seeing terrifying visions of clenched-fisted separatists or mau-mauing hucksters. He showed that he sympathizes with the subterranean disappointments that fuel right-wing populism, but he refused to pander to it. "Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan coalition," he said. "Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talkshow 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."

These are not the soothing bromides one expects to hear in the speech of a candidate who is supposed to be desperately trying to reassure working-class white people.

At the end of his speech, Obama issued a challenge not just to the country, but also to the media, and even to those of his supporters like myself who have jumped on the outbursts of some Clintonites: "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," he said. "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."

Or we can have the civilized, intelligent debate that Obama somehow thinks this country is capable of. He is remarkably close to winning the Democratic nomination, and to the presidency, and he has staked it all on a belief in American decency. If that's not patriotism, what on earth is?

You can read her entire piece there.

No comments: