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A Contemplation On Race, Politics, Obama, & The Future

April 17th, 2008 | by Daniel DiRito |

It’s clear that the pundits in the mainstream media prefer to stir the pot. Doing so generates the ratings they seek but it also serves to bolster the talking points of the political campaigns they cover. This symbiotic relationship does little to inform voters and likely accelerates the partisanship and division that has come to typify our political terrain.

I found the following interview with Dr. Cornel West a refreshing alternative from a number of perspectives. Regardless of his support for Senator Obama, he’s able and willing to offer a critique that places knowledge and truth ahead of political pursuits. In fact, his statement (at 3:00 - 5:00 minutes into the first video) on the tendency of political objectives (the attainment of power) to clash with the dissemination of the truth is a refreshing assessment. His candor, absent the partisanship we’ve come to expect, ought to inform us.

When West explains the similarities between the recent words of Senator Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and those of Martin Luther King, he points out the degree to which candid critical pronouncements are often rejected at the time they are delivered. Such is the nature of a nation’s (collectives of human beings) reluctance to come to terms with the mistakes it makes and the injustices it embraces.

My suspicion is that America is struggling with the possibility of entering another phase of introspective analysis similar to the one that existed during the timeframe occupied by the civil rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War. I would compare it to the process that unfolds in psychotherapy. The therapist is akin to the political visionary in that his or her role is to facilitate reflection that might otherwise be avoided or ignored.

At the same time, the therapist or the political visionary can easily lose the ear of the patient or the nation should he or she push too hard. When West points out that Dr. King exuded more unconditional love than Reverend Wright, he’s simply talking about the effectiveness of the therapist to persuade the patient to look within.

In the jargon of psychoanalysis, since the election of Ronald Reagan, we (the American public) have been in a period of reticent resistance. In fact, if one looks at some of the words spoken by President Carter…words that often focused on sin and redemption…one begins to see that his presidency marked the point at which the nation reached saturation and opted to enter a new phase.

We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon.

Speech - March 1976

Martin Luther King, Jr., was the conscience of his generation…. He and I grew up in the same South, he the son of a clergyman, I the son of a farmer. We both knew from opposite sides, the invisible wall of racial segregation.

Speech In LA - 1976

I think those Southern writers [William Faulkner, Carson McCullers] have analyzed very carefully the buildup in the South of a special consciousness brought about by the self- condemnation resulting from slavery, the humiliation following the War Between the States and the hope, sometimes expressed timidly, for redemption.

New York Times Interview - 1977

I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.

Playboy Interview - 1976

A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

Speech In New York - October 1976

We live in a time of transition, an uneasy era which is likely to endure for the rest of this century. During the period we may be tempted to abandon some of the time-honored principles and commitments which have been proven during the difficult times of past generations. We must never yield to this temptation. Our American values are not luxuries, but necessities - not the salt in our bread, but the bread itself.

Jimmy Carter, in his 1980 farewell address

The final Carter quote seems amazingly prescient and profound. He sounds like a man who recognized the passing of an era and the perils that the nation would face as it attempted to embrace its future. Given the tone of the 1980 election, it would have been obvious to Carter that the nation was about to embark upon a different path.

A look at the words of Ronald Reagan, his successor, evidence a dramatic shift and the subtle rejection of the restive and sometimes radical reflections of the 60’s and 70’s. His election signaled the start of a new paradigm.

The glistening hope of that lamp is still ours. Every promise every opportunity is still golden in this land. And through that golden door our children can walk into tomorrow with the knowledge that no one can be denied the promise that is America.

Her heart is full; her torch is still golden, her future bright. She has arms big enough to comfort and strong enough to support, for the strength in her arms is the strength of her people. She will carry on in the Eighties unafraid, unashamed, and unsurpassed.

In this springtime of hope, some lights seem eternal; America’s is.

RNC speech - August 1984

Clearly, Reagan ushered in a new period of pride…a forceful step beyond the contemplative critiques of his predecessor. His presidency signaled a tacit refusal to entertain doubt. Instead he fostered an unapologetic trumpeting of America and her values. Note the use of the words “unafraid, unashamed, and unsurpassed”…words that reflect a confident nation that had arrived and no longer needed to explore the inner depths of its identity. George W. Bush’s presidency simply attached a religious stamp of approval on the “Reagan Revolution”.

Strange as it may seem, President Carter’s willingness to incorporate his faith into his presidency is not that dissimilar from George Bush. If one tracks the period from Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 to the present, what we actually see is the completion of a cycle. In effect, we have traveled from the Carter era…a period in which faith served as the mirror in which we looked to find the means to purify our souls…to the Bush presidency…a period in which our actions are extolled as a reflection of the degree to which our faith has purified our souls.

Returning to Dr. West’s observations, perhaps we’re on the precipice of another introspective period…one that reopens the wounds that subsided but never fully healed. If history unfolds repetitively…and I suspect it does…it would seem that turbulence may soon trump tranquility as we engage in the dialogue of discovery.

With that said, reaching a new plateau is apt to be a lengthy journey. It’s doubtful we’ll be able to predict the time of our arrival…and while we may eventually reach our destination - a better place…it’s likely that the historians of the following generation will be the first to document the distance we traveled. Many believe that 2008 will be a change election. History tells us the easy part will be casting our ballots in November. Electing to change will be a far more daunting task.

Cornel West Interview - Part One

Cornel West Interview - Part Two

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

  1. One Response to “A Contemplation On Race, Politics, Obama, & The Future”

  2. By christopher Radulich on Apr 17, 2008 | Reply

    Strange as it may seem, President Carter’s willingness to incorporate his faith into his presidency is not that dissimilar from George Bush.

    Carter’s is considered a fail presidency. No doubt Bush’s will to. Could faith be a leading indicator of ineptness in a president?

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