Ive read Obamas Selma speech, which has its moments of strength. It is in the first instance very Old Testament, with lots of references to the civil rights generation Moseses, to which Obama and his contemporaries play Joshua. (I note in passing that Generation Joshua is a label already appropriated by someone else.)
While a good chunk of the spech consists in a litany of conventional big government progams, Obama, to his credit (yes, you read that), takes a page from Bill Cosby:
Government alone cant solve all those problems, but government can help. Its the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure that we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America. That brings me to one other point, about the Joshua generation, and that is this -- that its not enough just to ask what the government can do for us-- its important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.
One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I cant say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like weve lost it a little bit.
[E]ven as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents dont turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how theyre doing, and if we dont start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I dont know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.
Weve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we cant do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve.
We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but dont tell me it doesnt have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Dont think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasnt around when I was young and I struggled.
Dont tell me that we cant do better by our children, that we cant take more responsibility for making sure were instilling in them the values and the ideals that the Moses generation taught us about sacrifice and dignity and honesty and hard work and discipline and self-sacrifice. That comes from us. Weve got to transmit that to the next generation and I guess the point that Im making is that the civil rights movement wasnt just a fight against the oppressor; it was also a fight against the oppressor in each of us.
Sometimes its easy to just point at somebody else and say its their fault, but oppression has a way of creeping into it. Reverend, it has a way of stunting yourself. You start telling yourself, Bishop, I cant do something. I cant read. I cant go to college. I cant start a business. I cant run for Congress. I cant run for the presidency. People start telling you-- you cant do something, after a while, you start believing it and part of what the civil rights movement was about was recognizing that we have to transform ourselves in order to transform the world. Mahatma Gandhi, great hero of Dr. King and the person who helped create the nonviolent movement around the world; he once said that you cant change the world if you havent changed.
Ive seen glimpses of this before in Obama. He should be applauded for saying it, even by conservatives, indeed, especially by conservatives. I wonder whether and how the cultural Left in the Democratic Party will respond to it.