Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Chad, not the Alltel guy, not hanging.

I just noticed that my name comes right before Chad Hermann’s on the Tube City Almanac’s blog roll for Pittsburgh.

Bram at the Comet posted about Chad’s four volume analysis of Obama’s speech on race. Like Bram (I assume), I wanted to wait until Chad had finished before posting about it. But today was one of the days where I leave CMU a bit early to go to the Southside to prepare and/or review taxes. So I couldn’t post at 4:30.

I rather like Bram’s comparison of Chad to Ahab. Personally I feel like I read a work by Melville going through the four parts of Chad’s criticism of Obama. After all, Obama’s speech was pretty long to begin with, and to reprint it and criticize it, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph....with repeated declarations that Obama is lying, or obfuscating or whatever, over and over. We get it, you don’t like the way the man talks.

Bram posits four overarching themes for Chad’s four volumes, including this one at number four: “The speech was not written as well as it could have been.”. But really I think there is one theme running through Chad litany of criticisms. Obama could not have listened to Reverend Wright for twenty years without being influenced by him, without having developed a hatred of the white man as deep as the Reverend’s. By which Chad is saying that the Civil Rights movement is over, should be declared dead. Any further progress needed by anyone is the responsibility of that person. Dress neatly, pay attention in school, read books, speak clearly and without colloquialism. In other words, behave like a white person. Take responsibility. It’s not that there is institutionalized racism, it’s that white people don’t hire African American’s who act black. So as long as you have children out of wedlock and don’t have a proper family structure, you are responsible for your own situation and should not ask white people for help (much less demand it).

But as I say, Chad seems to believe Obama is a fraud because he won’t take a side and either say Wright is absolutely wrong or say that Wright is in fact right. In other words, Chad is angry at Obama because Obama won’t end his own candidacy. Obama is the first African American to be the front runner in a presidential primary. To reach that position, Obama must have constituencies in both the African American and the white communities. And he can’t let either constituency stare at the other one too long, think too hard about how much that different skin tone next to you has a different life. But Chad seems to want Obama to either say to the black faces in the crowd to grow up and take responsibility or to say to the white faces that its their fault so many blacks are poor. Instead, Obama makes a speech that hints at both, but lets both sides off the hook too. Because that’s what you do in a presidential campaign, you talk, and you try to make it sound fresh and new (like it’s the first time an African American has been the front runner in a presidential primary).

Whatever Obama's personal beliefs on race are, he seems to want to project a balanced view, allowing for the views of both African-Americans and whites. I actually disagree with Obama that the United States has made great progress towards equal rights, I think a fair amount of segregation has simply transformed into ossified ghettos. But regardless, to accept Chad's position that Obamais a fraud, we have to agree that his mind is so weak as to be influenced by twenty years of Sundays with Reverend Wright. My feeling on that is that Obama has been African American all his life, he almost certainly developed some ideas before moving to Chicago (albeit in Hawaii, Indonesia, Los Angeles, New York and Cambridge). Just like many, many undergraduates have read Marx and Lenin and only a few have become radicals, so too Mr Obama could listen to the Reverend Wright (whom I believe is only occasionally as dramatic as Youtube would have us believe) and not be turned into foaming at the mouth bomb thrower.

7 comments:

jtogyer said...

Let the record state, your honor, that I made the first Ahab comparison, so far as I know, back on March 11:

http://www.tubecityonline.com/almanac/entry_934.php

I'm a proud man with a lot to be modest about. ;-)

jtogyer said...

On a more useful note ...

You make a very important point here:

"Just like many, many undergraduates have read Marx and Lenin and only a few have become radicals, so too Mr Obama could listen to the Reverend Wright (whom I believe is only occasionally as dramatic as Youtube would have us believe) and not be turned into foaming at the mouth bomb thrower."

This might shock my pastor and excommunicate me from the church, but I've often sat in the pews on Sunday, listening to a priest deliver a homily, and thought, "You know, that's really stupid and illogical."

A few times I've even been really, really offended. I've even seriously considered leaving the church. But ultimately I keep deciding that the positives outweigh the negatives, and that organized religion is about worshiping a higher power, not men and man-made regulations and rules.

Most human beings can hold more than one position at a time --- sometimes even contradictory ones --- and not break down like a robot in a 1960s movie.

The wider point is no one agrees with every single position taken by every group to which they belong ... not their church, or union, or social club or political party.

The stubborn insistence that Obama (or anyone) is defined by the pastor of the church which they attend is a new and special level of nonsense to which American politics has descended.

Schultz said...

I was hoping Mr. Heath would post a link to my remarks about the two controversial Jeremiah Wright sermons. Here are the full you tube clips along with my thoughts.

EdHeath said...

Jason, I stand corrected, although I think Mr Hermann may have cemented his Mevillian nickname with this latest effort. And I appreciate your noticing about the relationship between Obama and Reverend Wright. I think the intention of Obama's critics is actually to play into the tendency of people to assume others think like they do. Reverend Wright seems extreme (on the basis of a couple of minutes of video tape). Therefore any right thinking person would reject him.

And thanks Chris Schultz, you are right, I should have added that link. I had viewed the longer tape on Dr Goddess maybe a week ago, which is part of the reason I thought Reverend Wright was getting a raw deal.

Bram Reichbaum said...

My friend, you outdid me. I sort of spit out those "four overarching themes" as a literary device, but you really got to the heart of the matter.

You say,

"Instead, Obama makes a speech that hints at both, but lets both sides off the hook too. Because that’s what you do in a presidential campaign, you talk, and you try to make it sound fresh and new (like it’s the first time an African American has been the front runner in a presidential primary)."

It could also be that both are correct? That black folks and white folks both have some legitimate grievances AND are beating some less-than-legitimate dead horses?

As I say, confronting complexity is good and very grown-up ... and it is an odd thing to be harping on when the country is in two wars and has several major domestic crises brewing.

Maybe he thinks it's a character issue. If it is, I'd say Obama's way ahead of the game.

Bram Reichbaum said...

OH MY GOODNESS, Mr. Togyer, you DID make the first Moby Dick reference! And I obviously read it. How funny it arose in my brain again only during Hermann's 4-part project.

EdHeath said...

Well, Bram, I would have to agree about the issues and the less than legitimate dead horses. My view of the progress we have made since Dr King's death may be skewed by some of the tax returns I see, and some of the conditions noted in Pittsburgh in the recent report from Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems. Definitely some of the opinions voiced by white conservatives are clear attempts to damage Mr. Obama's image, and Chad Hermann cheerfully aided that attempt with his vitriolic analysis of Mr. Obama’s Philadelphia speech. Truth to tell, some of the grammatical and even logical complaints Mr. Hermann raised were persuasive. But the central theme of Mr. Obama’s speech, that both sides are nursing grudges and with some good reason, is, in my opinion, quite valid.

I don’t think this country has engaged in a serious discussion of race since 1980, when Ronald Reagan talked about welfare queens riding around in new Cadillac’s (and went on to attack affirmative action in higher education). If a new discussion has to be recontextualized in terms of economics or class, so be it. I hadn’t thought much progress had been made until I heard about the situation in 1968 of the largely black garbage men (called “boys”) in Memphis, and that there were still segregated bathrooms, water fountains, etc then. Apparently the rate of poverty among African Americans in Memphis at the time was 66%, its now 30%. Still too high, but ok, I accept Barack Obama’s statement that progress has been made.

But I don’t know if we can expect further progress if we don’t talk about it. As Obama says, if we don’t talk about race (after thirty years of silence), it will be near impossible to solve other issues.

And (as Bill Murray said in “Quick Change”) thanks, for calling me your friend (sorry, couldn’t resist).