Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eloquence, insight and truth-telling

My friend Joan Rutkowski and I have been writing back and forth about Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech. In the course of our correspondence, she shared with me an as-yet-unsent letter-to-the-editor.

I thought I would share it with you, with her permission. Here it is in slightly shortened form.

Never in my life have I looked forward to hearing a politician deliver a speech.
As a 33-year-old, I have observed just enough of the political process to distrust politicians.
But on Monday night, after hearing that Barack Obama was going to give a speech about racism in America and about his pastor’s comments, I wrote myself a reminder to watch it the next day.
I had viewed a few of his campaign speeches online before this and had already been moved by his inspirational and eloquent message. So, I was quite interested to see how he would handle an immediate, controversial issue.
As expected, he offered a nuanced and deeply thoughtful perspective on this country’s history of racial issues. But what most interested me, in the end, was how much I was drawn to listening to and thinking about his words. This was a full 37 minutes of watching someone stand at a podium, and yes, my attention span sometimes falters when it comes to television. But I was listening to every word. Closely.
This is the kind of communication that I think most of us long for from our political leaders — and almost never hear. What is most compelling to me, and many others, is what this speech exemplifies about his entire campaign and his character in general. Obama continually demonstrates a unique ability to communicate with both eloquence and insight about the issues that confront us. He can be pragmatic, as when he talks about his health care ideas, yet inspirational at the same time.
Hillary and others desperately try to write off his campaign as style over substance. But what cynics do not understand is that the inspiration he conjures comes not just from his eloquence, but from our gut feeling that this guy is telling us the truth . . .
Because we have many difficult issues to confront and solutions that are unlikely to make everyone happy, we need a leader whose words not only inspire, but educate and engage citizens.
This may explain why, in another first, my Republican-leaning father, mother, and brother, and myself, are all supporting the same candidate. It seems that hope, change, and unity are possible when expressed by the right person at the right time.


  1. Anonymous4:33 AM

    Sorry, I don't get it. The man has, for twenty years, been an active member of a church led by a racist and anti-semite who hates his own country, blames AIDS and 9/11 on the American people. One sermon like that and I would have run out of the church. Obama stayed for twenty years! I can only say: shame on him. No amount of slick, evasive speeches will cover up the fact that he has chosen to belong to a militant, hostile, hateful, anti-Israel and anti-semitic church. This man is a UNIFIER?

  2. I can see that you don't get it.

    Have you ever heard a friend or family member say something you vehemently disagree with? Have you abandoned your friend or family member because of it?

    If you are a Christian or Jew or Moslem or follower of any faith, has any member of it ever said something that you find repugnant? Have you run away from your belief?

    Have you ever been a citizen in a country whose government has not only committed torture but whose president has embraced it? Have you run away from that citizenship and that country?

    The answer is not to run away, but to work for deep underlying change. Have you done that? Or do you simply curse the darkness — and run away.

  3. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Sorry Rick but you are 100% wrong. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of churches in Chicago to choose from. I would never choose one that precahes racism and anti-semitism. Sorry. If I were to go to such a church even ONE time I would protest to the church and then to the bishop that the sermon was UNACCEPTABLE and the person who preached it must be removed. I would never remain TWENTY years listening to hate filled sermons. I would not allow my pastor to give awards to the likes of Louis Farrahkan! Sorry, Rick. You are WRONG. I go to Chicago once or twice a year. Before I went the first time I checked out churches. I found one that I thought was acceptble I have never heard anything but sermons based on the Gospel that have focused on love and compassion. I have never heard a word of unkindness or hate.If I had heard anything like that I would have protested and I would never have returned. Sorry but a priest or minister is NOT the same as a difficult relative. I can not chnage my relatives but I CAN change my priest and I can ask the bishop to reprimand or remove a preist who behaves badly. Senator Obama sat back and put up with Dr. Wright's abusive, intolerant and anti semitic behavior. I am ashamed of him as should be Senator Obama. Senator Obama is NOT ashamed. He has made that clear. He is a lightweight candidate, totally unqualified and of questionable moral character. You may think that voting for someone who is African-American is noble and good but is is NOT noble and good when the individual is dishonest and corrupt. Sorry. You are wrong.

  4. Late on this Easter eve, two thoughts – they might even be prayers — come to mind in light anonymous's accusatory post.

    The first is our need to forgive and the courage it takes to do so.

    The second is that those who judge others for the speck in their eye, should consider the beam in their own.

  5. Anonymous8:49 AM

    Forgiveness is a given however first Obama needs to admit that he was wrong to have belonged, for twenty years, to a church that advocates anti-semitism and racism. His speech glosses over the whole issue. As a Christian I am very willing to forgive on a personal level but I consider that there are some people whose past actions disqualify them for high officem even when they ask for forgiveness (something Obama has not even done!). Let's be honest, Rick, would you have forgiven Nixon and allowed him to finish his term? Asking for forgiveness is fine but the fact is that Nixon had to pay a price for his bahavior. Obama should also pay a price. Second, I have no illusions about my being holier than others however I am not running for President of the US and IF I WERE I would expect my actions and words, past and present, to be carefully scrutinized. Obama has had a free ride by the media. I find him totally unfit to be President. As a Christian I have an obligation to evaluate his actions and words carefully so that I can make a just decision as to how to vote. I find it reprehensible that Obama belonghed to Trinity United Church of Christ and that he gave credence to his psator for so many years. I expect more from a man who wants to lead the US. Rick, in your enthusiasm to see this man elevated to the Presidency you are looking for ways to justify Obama's poor judgment.

  6. Quite honestly, I forgave Richard Nixon years ago, although he never asked to be forgiven by anyone for his being an anti-Semite, a liar, and a blasphemer (remember the expletives deleted?).

    He did not finish his term because he broke the law, not because of some sermon his pastor gave. Impeachment is a trial which Nixon knew he would lose.

    The forgiveness I'm talking about is not a legal pardon.

    Have the white fundamentalists churches and preachers in the South ever asked for forgiveness for their racism — which they claimed was in the Bible? Are the politicians who remain members of those churches and adhere to that Bible unworthy of our forgiveness because they have never asked for forgiveness for being members of those churches? Have they ever renounced the preachings of their pastors, as Obama has done?

    You didn't ask, but I'll tell you that each day I struggle with forgiving George W. Bush, (talk about "unfit" and "reprehensible"!), and he too has hardly asked for forgiveness. I doubt he ever will. I believe there is that of God in everyone, and I often pray for "that of God" in George W. Bush. Yes, although you didn't ask, I forgive George W. Bush, but believe me, it isn't easy.

    I am sure you and I can agree that we are not electing saints to public office. We are choosing those we consider the best of what we have. You and I clearly differ on who the best might be.

    Obama's message, we are told, has been the subject of Easter Sunday sermons today. It's clear why. The theme of forgiveness no doubt has been raised, as I raised it with you.

    As a Christian you surely know that Christ on the cross asked his Father to forgive those who crucified him. His executioners did not ask for forgiveness. From their perspective, as Christ said, "They know not what they do."

    Forgiveness, and love, to Christians, is unconditional, no matter whether you are a politician, president or foot soldier.

    As Christians, we are called upon to love, and forgive, even our enemies.

    And we are called to walk in another's shoes. If you aren't black, it may be hard to understand why the Rev. Wright would say some (not ALL) of the things he said. (The man clearly did far more good than harm. More good than I can ever expect to do.) Without walking in his shoes, it might even be hard to so freely judge him out of the context of the black experience and his own experience with racism in this country.

    Without walking in Barack Obama's shoes, it is difficult to judge him as well.

    That is why we are cautioned to "judge not..."

    And it is hard for a black or a brown person to understand some of the things whites say and do, and have done. (Why do lynchings and slavery come to mind?). As a white, I have trouble understanding them myself. They are abhorrent, though in its time, slavery was legal.

    Do we forgive Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves? We seem to have.

    Obama is trying to explain blacks and whites to each other because he has seen and experienced racism from both sides. That makes him a rare person, and a rarer politician — and one to be listened to.

    Recent polls show that 70 percent of Americans who have listened to his speech (you have listened to it, haven't you?), appreciate his message.

    I'm one of them. You clearly aren't.