Not everyone is going to agree about everything. And that’s OK. In these United States of America you hope you will find there are people who have varying opinions. Diverse debate is what makes this country great. Or at least it’s one reason, along with the ability to buy bagels almost anywhere, and get spring rolls or pho ga in even a small town.
From the time we were kids at Brandeis University, (I didn’t go there but my first husband did so we were part of the community) and we had many Israeli friends, they would always say, “When you have two Israelis engaged in conversation you will always have twelve different opinions.” This is no different from having two Americans in a room who are of different races, genders, geographic locations, religions, and cultures. Between these two people you are bound to find a virtual panoply of sentiment about whatever the topic. So I am not surprised about the range of didactic discussion when we are talking about the Obama speech.
Most of the articles in the NYTimes and Post reinforced the idea that Obama’s was a momentous speech which might actually kick start a conversation about race. They interviewed number of people who agreed that, although they might not have been satisfied with his answers about the Rev. Wright, they were moved by the sentiment and thrilled about the possibilities of race reconciliation sometime down the road. And you have to say he was successful given the number of conversations it has produced on talk radio and cable TV.
My surveys were much more anecdotal but not to be discounted. I asked about twenty Floridians (that would be at least 80 opinions) how they felt about the DNC discounting their votes and additionally, how they felt about the Obama speech. Interesting enough none of them felt disenfranchised. Some said they were not surprised, since they didn’t follow party rules. And they were angry at the Governor (a Republican) who made the decision about when to have the primary. A few said they hoped Hillary would get their delegates and a few said they wanted some kind of a recount but they didn’t care as long as they got to go to the convention. “So what”, they said “they’re not going to give us chairs?” Once they had vented their seemingly indifferent feelings (limited frustration) about the primary , I asked what they thought about the Obama speech. (These were people from 20-60, predominantly white). Most felt it was an amazingly candid heartfelt sharing of information and concern. A few said it didn’t explain why he stayed in the church—but many of those sentiments were a result of a conversation with their rabbi or minister. My (pick one: rabbi, minister, priest) said, “If I had given a sermon like that my congregation would have left the sanctuary. Why would Obama – this elected official, have stayed for twenty years?”
This is not a question I can answer because I am sure it is so much more complicated than any of us can imagine. The thing that struck me in the Obama speech was when he said that Wright had been a Marine who served in combat. And that in the twenty years of sermons, these few has been plucked and played over and over. It doesn’t excuse Rev. Wright, but I wonder what kind of rhetoric white ministers used in the South during segregation. I wonder what it must have been like for Black men who served their country and came back to find they still had to drink from a different fountain and their kids were not permitted to go to the “good” schools. I am saying Reverend Wright had no business saying the things he said, and I am not going to try to figure out what Obama’s thinking was about his commitment and dedication to this church and this man. I’m only asking a question in, maybe too circuitous a way, is it possible that what this man, working diligently to be the President of the United States, should not be judged by what one angry and disgruntled character in his life (albeit an important personality) has to say about his own experiences – not those of the candidate? Regardless of agree or disagree with what he accomplished or what the speech lacked, there is general agreement that he did the right thing and we absolutely do need to have an honest discussion about race.
Hillary said she thought it was an important speech. Maybe it is one she should have made about gender. I would have liked —no loved it -- if she had addressed the nation (without whining) about why it is important to have a woman as the Commander in Chief or any important elected position. A woman in that role would have a totally different approach to domestic issues, war and negotiations. We are very different managers – I think much better because we are more likely to build consensus among the people to whom we delegate responsibility. Additionally, we are much more willing to listen to varying opinion. I am not generalizing—it’s just how women operate – when they are not trying to imitate men. But she didn’t think it was important to address gender issues and he felt he couldn’t survive without a conversation about race. As my mother would say “go know’ – translated without my mother’s tone it means, ‘who ever could have guessed.’
But back to my original thought (yes, I have actually had a few). There are always going to be people who agree and disagree about whatever the issue. This is not a surprise since there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever happened, evolution is a myth perpetrated on an unsuspecting ill informed public, and any book by William Faulkner is trash. Not that these are bad things—and I mean that in the nicest possible way, but in my humblest of opinions, they do fall under the “give me a break, you idiot” category.
So we need to stop worrying about right wing talk radio show hosts, and we need to look at the reality of this great nation. There is a desperate need for substantive discussion about race, gender, medical research, war, the economy, health care, oil prices, foreclosures, corporate greed, jobs, education, drugs, international relations, care for the elderly and on and on and on. We do need to look at all the candidates and decide who has the vision and courage to be a great (just ‘good’ doesn’t make it anymore), leader. All the candidates need to get beyond the “he did, she did, and their friends did” and start to have a conversation with the public about what they did—or at least intend to do to make this country the best it can be – whole and strong and competitive in a world where there is both chaos and hope. We're just sayin... Iris