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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The "fierce urgency" of defending Obama

I have not had a new post for days. We lost internet connection when our basement was being redone after flooding from pipe problems. I also have been reflecting on the purposes of this blog and its direction in the future. I am excited that the blog has received over 1,000 page views and that there are now over 50 posts up on it. I appreciate the thoughtful feedback I have received and I want to take a post to clarify an aspect of this blog that has elicited the most feedback---its name!! Why do I insist on calling the blog “Defending Obama”? This question has come from people who I deeply respect and I want to spend this blog responding to the question.

I recognize that the title can be off putting and that it can indicate a simplistic attitude that is hopefully not true of the perspective at the blog. I also know that it implies a kind of knee-jerk liberalism and overt partisanship that is not in line what many of you know me to believe. This title risks unnecessarily narrowing the audience and influence of the blog. I understand and appreciate all of this, but yet……

The title will remain Defending Obama because these words, as I understand them, embody the gut level passion behind this blog. When I say that this blog is about defending Obama I do not mean a defense of every aspect of his administration or his character. I will argue against many things that are done over the next two or six years of his presidency. But what I mean to say in titling this blog “Defending Obama” is that there are three deeper things going on in the opposition to Obama that I feel I must resist with a “fierce urgency” reflected in the name of the blog.

1.     I see in the extraordinary fact that 62% of Protestant pastors believe Obama is not a Christian a deep disrespect for African American religious expression and a stunning spirit of judgment against the Mainline Christian communities that Obama’s faith springs from. I feel deep in my soul that to fail to defend Obama clearly and consistently on Christian grounds (as well as criticizing  him on those same grounds when necessary) is to give legitimacy to these baseless charges. I have benefited too much from the historic Black churches as well as from mainline denominations to want my own evangelical Catholic background to in any way be seen as participating in these desperate attempts to narrow the meaning and possibility of “being Christian” to those who would exclude believers like Obama from the community of faith. This blog will give voice to those expressions of faith that form the context of Obama’s life and political vision.

2.     I see in the effort to paint Obama as a cultural “other” an attack on the very premises of the “beloved community” that Martin Luther King strived for and gave his life for. I am speaking here of more than just the noxious attempt to question Obama’s citizenship, although I refuse to ignore or treat as minor the fact that 51% of likely Republican primary voters say that they do not think Obama was born in America and another 21%  say they are unsure. I am speaking more broadly of the concerted effort to insinuate that Obama’s biracial parents and his living for a time outside of America somehow diminish his standing as a “true American”. Perhaps it is the fact that I am in a biracial marriage, or that my wife lived in Vietnam until she was age nine, that makes me psychologically need to distance myself clearly and unequivocally from the pernicious race-based roots of these attacks on Obama. I want to defend Obama because I hear echoes in these attacks of a not so distant past in which my marriage would not have been allowed and my wife would not have been welcomed. I see a challenge to multicultural America.

3.     The “socialist smear” is having consequences on policies and individuals just like the Macarthyist attacks of the 50s. While people often comment, with more than a little truth, that the Washington Beltway can be “out of touch” with the real world, it is also true that on some things people out of the daily rough and tumble of DC can miss the chilling consequences of “Heartland” rhetoric. No clearer case can be found than that of Donald Berwick. Here is a man of extraordinary capability. A man who is head and shoulders above anyone else in his understanding of health care in America. And yet, on the basis of what can rightly be called an ideological death squad, this man is on the verge of not being appointed by the Senate. The consequences of the anti-intellectual and militantly anti-government rhetoric are being felt in a profound way in the right-wing takedown of this uniquely gifted public servant. I can not claim an impartiality at this blog.

For these religious, cultural and political reasons I feel that the title Defend Obama best gets at the urgency that I feel at this historical moment. Broad forces of religious intolerance, cultural prejudice and political retrenchment have galvanized around bringing Obama down. I will not fail to criticize or question Obama’s particular policies, but on the broad question of his political survival and success I have clearly staked out my ground and I think the title “Defending Obama” speaks authentically to an underlying motivation behind the blog. I hope you will continue to hear me out and respond along the way.

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