Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Send a Bodhisattva to the White House?

Everybody's writing about it, blogging about it. So you and I can find it again, here is the video of Barack Obama's speech on race. Here is the transcript. It is being recognized as one for the history books, but on the other hand torn apart by those that would seem unable to do politics any other way.

I have been so turned off by political speech; so much of it is about cutting up and tearing down. This one could be the speech that turns this around. It isn't just about race, but about an even deeper need to change the way we engage in public discourse. It was about refraining from negative soundbites, and seeking instead to accept the humanity found in each of us. He still loves and accepts his former minister, and cannot disown him. No more disowning.

He said:

I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — toward a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

Some may dismiss that at empty rhetoric, but what I hear is the language of peaceful conflict management, and the language from someone who can find a new way of being rather than take sides one way or another, perhaps only in the way a mixed-race child could. He goes on to say, "It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional of candidates. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one."

He goes on to analyze the divisive turn that the national discussion has taken, and skillfully says no, I won't disown my family. My family is more than the snippets you get on TV and YouTube. He is refusing to play the pundit game. I've read some comments on news/blogs that he should have shunned, or he should have said more about sexism, or he should have answered questions from the media like all the other candidates do.

I am grateful he has done none of that. I think beyond this speech, he has opened a doorway to reframing the way politics is discussed. He has insisted that we treat race, and all of the issues that affect our nation's future, with the compassionate and complex discussion it deserves, not with sound bites. I hope this doorway can remain open. I think he may be the person to do it.

Also, while I listened and watched, I thought that his cadence and delivery reminded me of the sermons in churches of my childhood. The charisma of this man will persuade the heartland, and in the heartland that is all about family, not about divisive politics, religious or otherwise, I think he will have appeal. My mother's husband told me a racist joke, something about a black man trying to find change in the white house, and even while we laughed and said "that's bad," he said, "But you know, I think he's the guy I'm going for." Obama knows how to make people feel accepted, and included, and I think that's because he means it.

He would ask us to do the hard work of repairing our relations, to be willing to accept and build up, not tear down. This is radically different from the conservative thousand points of light, of rewarding those who help others. This is about helping each other, and about changing the very frameworks of our lives so we all can be lifted up. This is the work of a bodhisattva. If Barack Obama is for real, he could be the catalyst that brings this nation out of it's wounded war-mongering, within and abroad. (I add the caveat because I was deceived by Bill Clinton. I still have more to learn before I will trust a pol again.)

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