Monthly archives: March, 2008

Obama and the Complexity of Race

Barack Obama in PhiladelphiaNo doubt we will be studying this one for years.

In a 38 minute speech to supporters in Philadelphia, PA, this afternoon, Barack Obama delivered the quintessential statement on race relations in America.

He did not strike me as a giant. The cameras zoomed out slightly, Barack stood dwarfed by the two tall American flags behind him. He looked small — not the towering Obama who filled the screen at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Here, I saw man standing alone, lifting up a critical discussion on race that recently had become bogged down in careless rhetoric. I saw a man struggling with race issues so complex they have confounded this country at every turn.

It was perhaps the most intelligent and compelling discussion on race this generation has ever heard.

With one stroke, Obama embraced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his white grandmother, two people separated by the chasm of race, yet very similar:

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

They are a part of all of our families. We all have a Rev. Wright or a grandma, aunt, uncle, cousin or parent whose racist rhetoric makes us cringe. Sometimes they go too far. Sometimes they speak a truth in a way that wouldn’t sit well with many if we captured them on video and put them on You Tube.

Perhaps we’ve even been the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or that white grandma, caving in to our own fears and slamming those different from us in our exasperation.

Today, something happened that was different. Barack Obama presented to us in 38 minutes the complex problem of race in America. He took the silly discourse of the past few weeks and elevated it to a sublime oratory. In doing so, he elevated us all in the process.

No doubt some Republicans and extreme conservatives will pounce, mince the Senator’s words and serve them to their far-right audiences with cries of, “See! I told you he was black!” Obama summarized it well:

Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show 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.

No doubt they’ve continued the attacks on Democrats, just as they laughed at us as Geraldine weighed in, Hillary countered, Barack reacted, and Rev. Wright sang from You Tube. But their laughter sounds from a lonely island. We argue at times as Democrats because we are at the table. We are having that discussion on race that Obama so eloquently expressed today. With Democrats, race is not about “them”, it’s about “us”. We may not get it right all the time, and, yes, sometimes we sound foolish when we fall, but the Republicans as a party are absent from the table. They’re not even in the same room. Instead, they are observing our dialog from afar. Senator McCain, respected as he is by Republicans and many Democrats, is watching from the outside. McCain’s party is not having this discussion — although they would be wise to start.

We need them on board with us so we can all feel the complexities of these issues together. We will never advance alone.

I’ll close with Jon Stewart, who summarized Obama’s presentation as only he can:

“And so, at 11 o’clock on Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race — as if they were adults.”

And we must continue the discussion — as adults.

Obama Comes Clean on Rezko

Senator Barack Obama gave an extensive interview with the Chicago Tribune Friday answering questions about his relationship with Tony Rezko. The Tribune provided an initial report of the interview where Obama revealed Rezko was much more involved with Obama’s fundraising efforts, but repeatedly chastised himself not showing better judgment:

Indicted Chicago businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko was a more significant fundraiser for presidential candidate Barack Obama’s earlier political campaigns than previously known. Rezko raised as much as $250,000 for the first three offices Obama sought, the senator told the Tribune on Friday.

Obama also said for the first time that his private real estate transactions with Rezko involved repeated lapses of judgment. The mistake, Obama said, was not simply that Rezko was under grand jury investigation at the time of their 2005 and 2006 dealings. “The mistake was he had been a contributor and somebody involved in politics,” he said.

To my mind, the key issue would be potential for payback. Was there any indication Rezko would come calling and expect something in return? This, after all, is the seedy side of politics, and if Barack Obama was playing this game, his words would be empty as a noisy gong or clanging cymbol. The report continues:

Asked if he ever thought Rezko would expect something from their relationship, Obama was definitive. “No, precisely because I’d known him for [many] years and he hadn’t asked me for favors.”

The rest of the article simply recaps some of the history regarding Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko.

Obama did the right thing. We called for more on this issue, and we’re pleased to see that the Senator took time to set the record straight. The article gives every indication that Obama answered questions patiently and thoroughly. Reporters had no lingering questions. Instead, we find someone taking himself to task for trusting a person who had earned his trust, only then to discover that trust was misplaced.  That would appear to be the case here.

We’ve all been there before.

There may be may be more to the story, but we don’t see it at this point.  For now, we give Senator Obama credit. It’s not easy to admit you’ve been had, especially in the middle of a political campaign when the only thing that passes many voters’ muster is perfection. But it takes character and an ounce or two of humility to admit a mistake.

This is the man we’ve come to know in Illinois.

Give It A Break, Barack

Senator, you need to lighten up. As one of your supporters, I’m telling you, this all looks silly.

I understand that no one really understands what it means to “act presidential” any more, especially after seven-plus years of George Bush. The tap-dancing War President is completely out-of-touch. But, Senator, you must start acting presidential. Stay above all of the nonsense. The majority of voters could care less whether Hillary Clinton or one of her supporters hurt your feelings. The majority of voters could care whether one of your staffers had to resign because of the “monster” comment, or Geraldine has to resign because of her stupidity.

The Geraldine Ferraro story was nonsense. You should have let it go. From now on, you have to let these petty things go.

You say you’re ready. Sir, we’re ready. We’re ready for leadership. We’re ready for someone who is capable of seeing to the heart of the big issues, someone who is not distracted by the small stuff. We’re ready for a leader who can rise above. You’ve already inspired us. Now start leading, and stop falling for the bait.

This is the point in an election when the voters start getting fed up. When candidates are at each others’ throats, we write them off. Blagojevich never recovered in Illinois. He’s held in extremely low esteem.

What was he thinking? That we’d love him because he could run a brutal campaign?

Geraldine quit. She allowed herself to get bogged down in the nonsense. Samantha Power resigned from your campaign after calling Clinton “a monster.”

Big deal.

Senator, give it a break. We’re not at all interested in whether you can go tit-for-tat with Hillary Clinton. We desperately need a President who can see to the heart of the issues, who can see with clarity what is really at stake, and make clear decisions, define sound policy.

Leadership is not demonstrated in the playground brawl.

“God knit Larry together…”

Lawrence King

We must take pause to remember Lawrence King, 15, who was murdered on Valentine’s Day, “shot to death inside a junior high school computer lab by a fellow student in what prosecutors are calling a hate crime,” according to The New York Times.

“God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex,” the Rev. Dan Birchfield of Westminster Presbyterian Church told the crowd as he stood in front of a large photograph of the victim. “Larry was a masterpiece.”

The shooter was 14 years old, and Larry had apparently asked him to be his Valentine.

Spitzer: “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

Now it’s purely political.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) has not been arrested, only implicated. And, yes, it’s not pretty. But, according to the Sun-Times, “a top state Republican” is threatening to call for impeachment proceedings. The “dogs of war” are ready to pounce:

Pressure mounted Tuesday on Gov. Eliot Spitzer to resign because of a prostitution scandal, with a top state Republican threatening to push for impeachment proceedings if the governor doesn’t step down in 48 hours.

The state ‘‘cannot have this hanging over their heads,’’ said Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco.

The Republicans are making noise, no doubt rejoicing that, this time at least, it was not one of their own involved. Democrats are not doubt rejoicing that Spitzer at least was involved with a woman.

Jon Stewart had his fun this evening, and it was hilarious.

Now, however, it doesn’t matter what really happened. Spitzer must resign. He’s been in seclusion all day, but he cannot survive this one politically.

Larry Craig is still in the United States Senate. We don’t know for how long. I don’t recall hearing many Democrats recently calling for him to step down. But when a Democrat is involved, things are somehow different. Then, the self-righteous right-wing begins screaming for justice. And we usually crumble. We usually do what’s right.

Governor, it’s time to step down.

Spitzer Makes A Call

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-NY, is in trouble.  Formerly known as “Mr. Clean”, Spizer has allegedly been involved with prostitutes.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet in a Washington hotel room the night before Valentine’s Day with a prostitute from a call-girl business known as the Emperors Club VIP, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.

Democrat or Republican, this is a story, and it must be told.  The governor has not been charged with anything.  While it is easy to make wisecracks, we must exercise restraint.  That has been my practice on Turning Left, no matter who the accused.  One colleague at the Online News Association expected the “liberal media” to stay away from this story, and only attack when the bad-boy is a Republican.

Not likely.

Spitzer already gave the mandatory apology with wife-at-side.  Perhaps he’ll resign.  Should he?  I don’t know.  If he is arrested and charged with anything, then, absolutely yes.  At that point he becomes ineffective as an elected official.

But is he ineffective now?  I don’t think so.  Not yet.  Larry Craig said he would resign, and then changed his mind. Craig was actually arrested.

Spitzer has to determine if he can still govern.  Ethically, what he did is between his family, himself, and God.  Can he still effectively serve the people of New York?  That’s the only issue right now.

The Sun Also Rises: Foster Wins!

Fighting Donkey of the Young Democrats

Unofficial results from the Associated Press show Bill Foster defeating Jim Oberweis for Congress. The Chicago Tribune calls it a “stunning upset” — and they’re right:

In a stunning upset Saturday that could be a harbinger of trouble for the GOP this fall, a little-known Democratic physicist won the special election for a seat drawn to re-elect former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis, who lost his fourth high-profile election in six years, following an expensive and highly negative contest.

Unbelievable, and yet totally cool.

Foster told his supporters he gives a lot of credit to the Young Democrats of Illinois for helping him secure this victory. Hats off to the entire YD organization in historically Republican Kendall County, which Foster won by 91 votes. The Young Democrats helped turn a huge page in the 14th Congressional District. Spectacular.

John Crawford and every Young Democrat in Kendall County deserve credit for this one.

With 100% of precincts reporting, The Chicago Sun-Times shows Foster beating Oberweis by six points: 53% to 47%. Six whole points send Mr. Foster to Washington.

Congratulations to all who had a hand in this victory.

Foster is good stuff, and the residents of the 14th Congressional District deserve solid representation. I have no doubt the good doctor will serve them well.

Barack Wins Wyoming

The Senator from Illinois has taken Wyoming Democratic caucuses.  As he should have.

The Sun-Times reports:

Barack Obama captured the Wyoming Democratic caucuses Saturday, seizing a bit of momentum in the close, hard-fought race with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination.

Obama generally has outperformed Clinton in caucuses, which reward organization and voter passion more than do primaries. With Saturday’s victory, the Illinois senator has now won 13 caucuses to Clinton’s three.

Barack has a distinct edge when it comes to caucusing.  Give him and his supporters a few minutes of your time, and they will convince you of his passion for serving this country.  Obama demonstrates the vision Clinton lacks.  But Clinton is smart and would serve this country well.

Here’s the problem Democrats have that Republicans do not: we have two excellent candidates running for President of the United States.  Before that, we had many more excellent candidates who were running for  President of the United States.

The Republicans had to settle.  Ask them.  They’ll tell you.

It’s Gotta Be Foster

Bill Foster is running an amazing campaign for Congress in the 14th District, Illinois. Endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, Foster has gained a reputation for being smart, wise and honest.

Jim Oberweis, a perennial candidate for whatever-is-next, published literature with fictional people, complete with stock photographs. From an editorial in the Chicago Tribune:

Rob Wadsworth is a firefighter. His wife, Amanda, works as an office assistant. They live in Yorkville and get by OK on $73,000 a year. They have a mop-headed little boy and a cute little girl. Take a look at their photo here. Aren’t they just adorable?

Well, life’s not all rosy for the Wadsworths. Rob likes to hit the tavern with his buddies after work, so Amanda basically has two jobs because someone has to ride herd on the kids — one’s a chronic shoplifter, the other likes to play with matches and neither of them can recite the alphabet without prompting — and Rob says he’d come home if Amanda’s hag of a mother wasn’t there all the time …

Actually, we made up that last part … but who cares? Jim Oberweis made up the Wadsworths!

Pols are often criticized for alleged dishonesty. The voters of the 14th District considering voting for Oberweis should seriously consider taking a second look at Foster. The man carries endorsements from a string of Nobel Prize winners — not that the Nobel Prize qualifies anyone to choose the next congressman. But their endorsement is extremely impressive, nonetheless.

The Washington Post has taken notice of the race:

In a race that has become surprisingly close, voters will decide today whether a Republican dairy magnate or a Democratic scientist will fill out the remainder of former Republican House speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s term in Illinois’ 14th District.

Our Democratic scientist should be commended — and elected.  This one is well within reach, and Republicans and Democrats in the district should take a good look at Bill Foster.

Oberweis’ own actions raise too many credibility issues. The right choice for Congress is clearly Bill Foster.

We Can’t Handle Guns

Yes, the Constitution gives us the right to bear arms. Specifically:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

We could debate endlessly the meaning of “a well regulated Militia” and whether such a thing could exist in this day and age.  We could talk about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.  That’s all we have to do, after all, right?  We have enough laws.  We just have to enforce the laws we have and all will be well.

We could compare ourselves to other countries.  Canadians have lots and lots of guns, for example. But they don’t shoot each other the way we do.

Why do we shoot each other?  We could debate endlessly.  For all our discussion, it happened again.

Today, Ruben Ivy, 18, a student at Crane High School in Chicago was shot and killed.  The Chicago Sun-Times shows a black jacket laying in a pool of blood on the school’s front steps.

A puddle of blood and yellow police tape remain on the steps in front of Crane High School on Friday evening after an 18-year-old junior was killed and another student was beaten nearby in what police are calling gang-related incidents.

Police are looking for a male juvenile they believe is a suspect.

It happened again.   Our children are killing children.

While we debate once again the merits of gun control, the fact is Ruben Ivy will not be the last young person shot.  When children shoot children, the issues are systemic, and much deeper than guns. Some have suggested adding a $10 tax to individual bullets.

But remove guns from the mix, and what do we have left?  Imagine for an instant that we have removed guns from our streets?  What would be left that is driving our children to kill other children?  What’s going on in the big picture?

I don’t have an answer tonight.  I’m just trying to feel the question more deeply.