Barack Obama, the press is supposed to say, is a hope-monger. He mongers hope. In a tight stump speech, it's hard for Obama to describe the content of the hope he sells. It roughly entails a complete transformation of the political system, one where deeply felt values are contested but the act of contesting them does not require one side to assassinate the other.
Borrowing the language of a certain political theorist of leftist repute, there's a dialectical element to it. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the bringing together of political opposites, the breaking of old habits of minds; putting it more capitalistically, Obama, in his campaign bull sessions, sees his campaign as the prelude to a creative destruction of the current political system.
Here's an illustration: this letter, signed by gay and lesbian activists and African American church leaders and released by the Obama campaign yesterday in response to protests over Pastor Donnie McClurkin's inclusion in a series of gospel concerns the Obama is performing in South Carolina. (Hat tip: Huffington Post).
At the same time, while Obama has said that he "strongly disagrees" with Pastor McClurkin's comments, he will not exclude from his campaign the many Americans including many in the African American community who believe the same as Pastor McClurkin.
We believe that Barack Obama is constructing a tent big enough for LGBT Americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate and treasured part of their being, and for African American ministers and citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers and sisters. And if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.
This expansive vision of tolerance does not comport with the Manichean universe that most partisans inhabit. It might not sit well with his audience.
Obama's campaign is acknowledging -- or stating as a fact -- that there is a fairly substantial degree of homophobia within parts of the black community. (A reality of American life: many people support gay rights unreservedly; many others oppose gay rights unreservedly; most are ambivalent.)
The beauty (or peril) of this letter is that it will enrage partisans. (How DARE Obama not exclude bigots? Would he include racists? Anti-Semites? Or -- Obama thinks black people are homophobes. How ARE he, etc.)
The partisans might be so invested in their sides and the media might be so invested in covering the world through a bifocal that Democratic primary voters may hear only the charges and countercharges and not Obama's argument itself.
That might take a speech.
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