Barack Obama, one of two Democratic Party contenders for the presidency of the United States of America, has issued stinging rebukes of his now former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, after Wright’s most recent sermons, speeches and interviews, notably for Bill Moyer’s Journal (on television) and to the National Press Club and the NAACP. An excellent analysis of the situation was given by Glen Ford, the editor of Black Agenda Report. A transcript of Wright’s address to the NAACP makes the nature of his ideas and the tone of his delivery quite clear. A selection of Wright’s “bon mots” of recent days is provided by AP. To reasonable and thinking minds, there is little in all this to become hysterical over. Of course, such reasonable and thinking minds must also be capable of acknowledging truth. What follows is the speech that might have been, which presumes a finite possibility for the materialization of the fantasy presented.
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And now, Barack Obama steps up to the podium…
“My fellow Americans, in every life there comes a time of testing, when the imperatives of ambition and imminent success unexpectedly come face to face with the heart and fiber of a person’s character. That time has come for me. My campaign strategists along with many outside political experts and commentators, as well as many of my supporters, tell me that in order for my presidential campaign to retain the financial and political support of a sufficient number of white Americans in the higher economic classes and in the corporate sector I must cut any connection to the historical memory and moral vision of Black America and those who loudly proclaim it like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. If I fail to make this separation, I am told, then I must soon relinquish the national attention I now enjoy, and so lose any further opportunities to convince most of you, the American people, for taking entirely new directions of public policy in every aspect of American life.
“The aims of all my arguments are the same: to find socially just and ethical balances between all the legitimate competing interests surrounding each major national issue. My aims are to restore peace, the rule of law, a clear and evident social and economic justice, and an equitable prosperity as soon as possible. The issues before us are plain as day: national health security, national home security, national fiscal security, a rapid end to all our wars and an unstinting rehabilitation of our troops, a return to the rule of law without exception, and a return to internationally recognized legal and moral standards for the conduct of our national policies.
“Beyond the need to resolve the multiple disasters and crises brought on by the incompetence, myopia, corruption and malevolence of the current Bush Administration, we need to elect a new generation of Democratic legislators and governors, people of vision who will work with us to plan and implement national strategies for dealing with the looming problems of climate change, sustainable food production, poverty and hunger in much of the world, drug-resistant diseases and epidemics, the development of new non-polluting sources of energy, and providing for a host of social needs of the American people. My campaign is about restoring American honor and American democracy by bringing the government back into the business of serving the needs of the American people, by restoring democratic institutions and practices, and by returning to civilized norms of behavior in the conduct of government business.
“I believe I am by far the best candidate to lead this nation today, but to fully justify that claim I must to speak to you plainly. That would require that I choose character over ambition and thus, in the eyes of so many, jeopardize my chances for winning the Presidency. It is no simple thing to throw out the chance of winning the widest support to carry the election. Millions of people look upon me as a symbol of their hopes for change in America, and for many Black Americans, the election of one of their number to the highest office in the land would be a most joyful event. But, could we really celebrate hollow symbolics without real substance? If the manner in which I were to become elected was to garner such a weak level of support from a larger white population that they would never support my policy initiatives when Republicans and other mean-spirited factions called them “too black,” too socially-oriented, or too indulgent to under-educated and minority people whom many may resent because they require public assistance, or even targeted services allowing them to successfully enter the educational, labor and professional mainstream, then what would be the point of my presidency?, to put a black mask on a continuation of the failed governance of today?
“My beautiful wife, and best friend, told me ‘You tell me the truth, and I love you for it. Why not give the American people that chance.’ So, I will choose character because it it so liberating. I beg pardon of my hard-working strategists and many campaign workers and supporters. But, please try to understand: when you work from your core principles rather than purely for tactical advantage, even at the risk of losing an honorable and important campaign, you never have a hesitation at looking into the mirror, there is never a sign of reproach in the eyes of the one you love, you are free. Forty-five years ago, when Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of an America where people were judged ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,’ he envisioned that the experience of such ethical enlightenment would be ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.’
“So now, plainly, why I am the best choice for your next president, I list three items:
“Item 1. I am a black man in America, and through my veins flows the blood and history, the anguish and insight, the aspirations and exuberance, the hunger, the sparkle, the earthiness, the poetry, the passion, the jazz, and the brotherhood that is the pulsing, prideful life of Black America. This is my root, my core, my pride. No apologies are necessary nor will be given, and no separation will occur. There are many Black commentators who express the anguish and frustrations inherent in the American Black experience with a passion and even anger that resonates with the sentiments of millions of black Americans. But, rarely does an angry delivery elicit a willingness for further listening by people outside the community expressing itself, and such a delivery, however justified, could be counterproductive in that it causes a wider public to become defensive and to distance itself, rather than attentive and willing to consider some responsibilities in the matters being presented. My approach is different, my aim is to bridge this gap for the betterment of the nation, and it is not — I repeat not — to drop these matters from consideration merely to advance my political career. Let me also add the following, I will not accede to demands by the media that I verbally and publicly beat up another black man, whom it has chosen to dislike, as some condition of gaining their editorial approval of me. To my brothers and sisters and all my supporters, let me say this: the exercise of character always carries a price, but self-respect is priceless.
“Item 2. I am my white mother’s son, the blood of white America runs through my veins, and with it a network of family rooted in the heartland and the history of this country. I am a crossroads, a confluence of two rivers of consciousness of the American experience. I have the advantage of perspective across racial categories that can only be gained by actually embodying the marriage of two cultures. Within myself, I understand the many human and humane commonalties that underlie our simplistic categorizations of race and culture, because I have to live it. And I live it joyfully. This is my unique advantage. I want to bring the joyfulness of this understanding, into the practicalities of operating the government, to pull us out of today’s disasters and to point us in the direction of preparing intelligently for our collective futures so each and every one of us feels “free at last, free at last.”
“Item 3. With my family’s help, and by my own efforts, I have become a very successful individual at an early age. I have learned how to maneuver through the educational, professional and business sectors of American life. I understand how success happens, and I understand what people need to be successful. I am able to command the attention of managers, academics and professionals because I know how these communities operate, and what they each want. Also, I know what any individual willing to work requires in the way of opportunity, to prosper and become better able to contribute to the well-being of their family and of the nation. I know how to cut deals, and I know what kinds of deals are worth cutting. A good president has vision to guide his initiative, and some tactical and deal-making savvy to bring about practical results. My vision comes from my blended heritage, my political insight and deal-making savvy come from my education and success in business. I know that I can translate an inclusive vision into efficient and thoroughly helpful practicalities, if I have dependable public support.
“These are my three items. The Republican candidate for the presidency, along with the other Democratic Party contender, are exponents of the failures we are living with today. If you want more of the same, you know where to go.
“So, I ask for your support, not on the basis of skin color, or gender, but on the basis of character. Judge me for that. If you dislike what I look like, who I know, or any part my heritage and living experience, well then you will find others to support. Certainly, I want to be elected, and certainly, I want a majority of the American people to approve of me. But, I want an authentic approval. I want an approval that backs up the practical implementation of an entirely new direction for this country. I do not want to be black window dressing on the same worn-out policies of today. I want most of you to vote for me because you want what I want, and have stated here. If most of you do, then we can accomplish our vision. Our greatness as a nation lies in our willingness to appreciate each other. That is our unity. Now, let us bring it to life.”
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Well, I’m unlikely to find employment as a speech writer, but I suspect you get the point. Barack had the chance to elevate himself without having to ritually kick another black man, and he had the chance to gain wider public support on the basis of straight talk and honesty with the public. As we have seen, the politically prudent tactics are just the opposite, and what this says about the nation is too depressing to elaborate on further. I think Barack is still the leading contender for the presidency, despite the default racial preference of much of the male and older electorate for a white man, even if dysfunctional (again) like McCain, and despite the Lady MacBeth ego-centrism of Hillary Clinton and her mad efforts to castrate the Obama campaign. However, I do not see an Obama landslide of sufficient magnitude to inspire him to advance a major progressive agenda. He would have to have given a speech like this for that to be a possibility.
MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He likes Ralph Nader’s speeches best.