Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Reactions to Obama’s Speech

Reading the posts and comments about Obama’s speech, it strikes me that, except for Steve Hayward’s and Peter Lawler’s, they seem fussy and doctrinaire: Obama confused the Declaration and the Constitution (thank God, is all I can say, considering the alternatives—Steve is right about this); he got a date wrong by a few months; he’s a Progressive; his thought is un-American. Obama’s understanding of the need to perfect the constitution is sound. The answer to the slavery issue was in the constitution because “equal citizenship under the law” is embedded in the constitution. As Steve pointed out, this understanding could be called Lincolnian. There is no claim that the truth unfolds over time or was inherently blighted by its compromise with slavery and so we need constantly to improve the constitution or start over. Obama also said that Blacks had to take responsibility for their own lives, so he did not simple-mindedly blame the “system” or whites for the problems of blacks. I was also glad that he did not cave into pressure to disown the Rev. Wright. It was enough to disown his views. Wright has helped him it seems and so to disown him personally would have been an act of ingratitude and so of injustice and to have done so under pressure a sign of cowardice. I suppose we will all have differences over various of his policy prescriptions. I think he is wrong to criticize free trade, for example.

With regard to religion, I must add that I think Peter is wrong to stigmatize Obama or the religious tradition of the Rev. Wright as heretical. Or rather, if this is heresy, then so is much if not most Protestantism in America, which has tended to confuse itself with the Messiah and has been political and often too political from the beginning.

Discussions - 11 Comments

If you read where he talks about how previous generations had to work to "narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time" and then continue to read as he develops his argument about what this means for us today, it becomes clear that he thinks the realities of our time are pushing our ideals with them.

See this paragraph for example: I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. [He says this after detailing a long list of ways the government can take responsibility for the personal welfare of all its citizens.] This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

Is this true? Can the union always be perfected? Is that really the same thing as Lincoln's They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. I may be wrong, but my first reaction is to suggest that it is different. In Lincoln there is a more mature acceptance of our limitations. "[A]ugmenting the happiness and value of life" through a spreading and deepening influence of reason seems to be a less "audacious" and more concrete goal than an elusive idea of "perfection." What is a more perfect union? What is Barack Obama's standard maxim for a free society? A standard maxim is something to strive toward, to be sure. But it is also something that limits our audacity. What limits Barack Obama's audacity?

Nothing might limit Obama's audacity but "Equal citizenship under the law" could. What limited Bush's audacity? have we had a more audacious President?Of course the Union could be perfected over time, unless you believe in states' rights. Federalism is inherently unstable (because of dual sovereignty) and hence always needs to be perfected.

David Tucker writes: I was also glad that he did not cave into pressure to disown the Rev. Wright. It was enough to disown his views. Wright has helped him it seems and so to disown him personally would have been an act of ingratitude and so of injustice and to have done so under pressure a sign of cowardice.


Let’s parse your argument:


Wright helped Obama (it seems).


Therefore, Obama would have been ungrateful and unjust to disown Wright.


That argument is too facile by half. For the past two decades and more, Wright has been spewing racial hatred, accusing the U.S. government of genocide (delivering AIDS to Africa); he says Americans got what they deserved on 9/11; his fulminations about “rich white people” is drenched with hatred. No need to go through the whole stomach-turning litany.


As if those views aren’t revolting enough in themselves, the Reverend Mr. Wright has been pushing them on congregants, many of whom are less than half his age. Instead of devoting his pulpit to promoting forgiveness and reconciliation, he has used it to sow the seeds of racial hatred in yet another generation of blacks.


And you, David Tucker, say Obama would have ungrateful and unjust to disown this fountain of hate? Given that Obama styles himself as a healer of divisiveness, he was a coward not to have disowned Wright years ago.


If this puling fraud gets himself elected president, God help us all.

Dear Mr. Tucker,

You are right that Christianity in America has often been recruited for political purposes, and often discreditable ones, like the defense of slavery. But it does not follow that Professor Lawler is wrong to be concerned with a candidate whose church seems to sacralize race (any race). Would we not be concerned if a candidate for President belonged to a church that still subsribed to Jefferson Davis's bible based defense of black slavery? Would it not be a little absurd if such a candidate posed as a racial healer?

Julie--Obama's thoughts may not be perfectly in line with Lincoln, but they are Lincolnian, Lincolnian with a progressive twist. Obama is a progressive, big surprise. Michelle-- Rev Wright said many hateful things. But so have people close to me (and probably you too)and I don't disown them. Obama needed to address this issue, but to disown an old friend and pastor would have been cruel and gratuitous. Obama's restraint is actually a welcome change...

Who is to say what is heresy in Protestant America? There is no central Protestant church authority to decide those matters. Protestantism has very few heresies, being all about protest against the Catholic Church. We are ALL heretics, and very democratic.


What are we going to do about people who think like Rev. Wright? I hear variations on what he said all the time. I have had many students who would embrace that rhetoric without blinking an eye. God knows why Obama has gone to that church for all of these years. It seems logical that Michelle would be comfortable with the rhetoric, given what she said a couple of weeks back. There are many people who believe the sort of things that Rev. Wright said. They are part of our polity. What do we do about that? Disown them? They will still be here and will still vote.

I think David is correct in this; having gone to that church for so many years, it would be vile for the Obamas to denounce that pastor. Richard Adams' joke, below, is entirely apropos. If Barack embraced God through Rev. Wright, it would be a low act of political utility to denounce Wright, right now. As for Obama as presidential candidate, if all of this informs us of his level of tolerance for that kind of rhetoric, so much the better. I have not been able to see that it was any real surprise. Were you going to vote for him anyway?

It misses the point to treat Obama's Ivy League spin as an intellectual exercise. It is simply an unusually elegant Democratic speech, delivered under great political pressure at a high-stakes moment of a presidential campaign, by a candidate. In this vastly overrated speech, Obama: 1) stands by reverse racism in effect, if not perhaps in theory; 2) cheaply uses his grandmother to make a point against white racism; 3) morally equates quiet, privately expressed white fears of blacks with loud, aggressive, public hatred for whites (and for America) expressed by a congregation and a "pastor"; presents Rev. Wright as a decent man and as a legitimate spokesman for blacks, even while condemning or pretending to condemn his views; and leaves fundamental questions about his relationship to this racist thug unanswered. However apparently learned or literate it may be, however sensitive Obama may claim he is to the entire society, it is a radically dishonest and even a dangerous speech. It attempted to change the subject from Wright's hateful lunacy to America's collective problems with race. This is dishonest and amounts primarily to a lecturing of whites and conservatives. I'm not buying any of it. It is very disappointing that NLT collectively appears to buy large chunks of it. Obama has consistently been given more points than he deserves on this "No Left Turns" site, for months. When will it end?

When will it end? Why, of course, it will end when you assume your rightful place as The Chief Blogmaster of NoLeftTurns, Mr. Frisk!

A "dangerous speech"? Please.

Since when is a participant in a discussion not allowed to criticize the frequency of a certain viewpoint in a discussion? Don't answer my points by calling me a would-be dictator or usurper. I'm not. Give me a real answer or keep your mouth shut.

Mr Frisk -- I hesitate to respond to you but would it be unfair of me to say that taking your spin as an intellectual exercise would miss the point?

Yes, it would. You are playing word games.

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