Barack Obama is almost certainly the most substantive, intellectually impressive, and emotionally integrated figure on the American political scene today. His speech on race in America was far more than the typical self-serving political exercise most of us are accustomed to. Rather, it was a revelation into the character of a man who has a profound capacity to understand himself, his country, and the world in all its moral complexity. How refreshing to find someone so edifying and illuminating running for the White House following eight years of the obtuse self-certainty and inflexible mindlessness of George W. Bush.
What made Barack’s speech so impressive was his capacity to empathetically relate to the concerns whites and blacks, conservatives and liberals, and the rich and poor have. His aim was clearly to encourage greater dialogue, empathy, and to edify. His approach stands in stark contrast to a legion of self-serving politicians and pundits who have built their careers upon feeding the fear and anger of their audiences. Indeed, there is a herd of sophistic talk show hosts and cable celebrities -- Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Rich Lowry come to mind – who stuff their audiences with intellectual garbage the way visitors at a zoo might throw morsels of junk food at a gaggle of geese.
Barack Obama is equally perceptive on the subject of Iraq. Obama’s pragmatism, the cogency of his arguments, and his exceptional capacity to raise the level of discourse must terrify the purveyors of prejudice and irrationality. Put simply, a spokesperson for a progressive outlook as articulate as Obama has the potential to transform the political landscape in a way no American leader since F.D.R has. Thus, the right-wing hate machine is being set loose once again to do the only thing its good at: character assassination.
The Bush era conservatives have demonstrated they cannot govern, but their propaganda apparatus would make even Joseph Goebbels spin in his grave with envy. Six years into a disastrous war, and with the country facing possibly the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression, the professional slime-mongers on the right are bent on hanging comments by Obama’s pastor around the candidate’s neck. Obama has denounced the comments, but for shameless sophists guilt by association is a sure-fire way to clip the Democratic front-runner’s wings.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof correctly characterized called Obama’s speech thus: "It was not a sound bite, but a symphony." Filtered, interpreted, and distorted by right-wing rage mongers, however, Obama’s speech is being dissected into snippets that present a completely misleading picture of Obama and his message. The agents of anger, ignorance, and arrogance have succeeded before in Swift-Boating Renaissance men like Al Gore and John Kerry. As a result, the country is stuck with a pre-Enlightenment President who has succeeded only in taking America back to the Dark Ages.
Obama faces a steep challenge. George W. Bush has demonstrated that even a bad argument aimed at the lowest common denominator has a good chance of succeeding if it is repeated often enough. The instruments that make up the right-wing echo chamber understand this. The weapons they wield are not truth or reason, but repetition and cliches. Obama’s candidacy really is different; it’s based on the premise that a leader can persuade the electorate by engaging them on a higher intellectual and emotional plane. That’s the audacity of hope we so desperately need.