Two people have now elevated themselves thanks to Rev. Wright and his tirades.
One, of course, is Barack Obama.
The other is Mike Huckabee, who (as I see via Andrew Sullivan and others) dared speak as a human being rather than as an on-message apparatchik in his comments about Obama and Wright. More specifically, he spoke as a "hate the sin, love the sinner" Christian, as a preacher who has delivered extemporized sermons of his own, and as a white product of the segregated South who did not blind himself to how that world would look if he were black. Consider and be in awe of this:
And one other thing I think we've gotta remember. As easy as it is for those of us who are white, to look back and say "That's a terrible statement!"...I grew up in a very segregated south. And I think that you have to cut some slack -- and I'm gonna be probably the only Conservative in America who's gonna say something like this, but I'm just tellin' you -- we've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told "you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus..."
And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.
Actual honest and empathetic discussion about race...! We've come to expect that presidential campaigns will be the equivalent of World War I trench slaughter, in which there is a "winner" at the Somme but really everyone loses and it's a matter of who is farthest from being bled dry at the end. But the idea of actual discourse about real issues -- it would be nice to think that it could happen.
It was a moment like this that first drew John McCain to my attention as a politician, nearly 30 years ago.
In the bleak years just after the Vietnam war, when the tensions that would later resurface in bitter fights about John Kerry's wartime record -- and Bill Clinton's, George W. Bush's, Dick Cheney's, Dan Quayle's -- were at their rawest and most visceral, McCain played a surprising political role. He was the most inclusive and least embittered of hawks, when dealing with doves who had opposed the war in which he had paid such a price. Later he led efforts toward reconciliation between Vietnam and the United States. And when the Swiftboaters of 2004 began running their slimy ads against John Kerry, McCain was there to "deplore" the "dishonest and dishonorable" attacks, something roughly equivalent to what Mike Huckabee has just done.
John McCain probably didn't vote for John Kerry that year; Mike Huckabee is probably not going to vote for Obama this year; I am probably not going to vote for McCain. But stands like theirs, and Obama's, are glimmers of hope.