Saturday, March 15, 2008


In case you missed it (and I hope you DID since it was at 10pm on a Friday night and only lame-o fathers of 3 could possibly have been watching!), the CNN show "Anderson Cooper 360" was one of the shows that interviewed Obama about the controversy over all of his pastor Rev Wright's inflammatory black power and quasi-Marxist liberation theology sermons released on video. Anyone familiar with 60s Black Power movement culture wouldn't be surprised by Wright's sermons -- I bet 1/4 or so of traditional black urban churches have featured sermons like this at one point or another over the last 10 years. On the other hand its easy to see why the whole thing is potentially disastrous relative to Obama's message and in the context of a Clinton/McCain race-baiting campaign (both overt and "dog-whistle") -- as well as why an average voter might, in more or less good-faith, think "If he has such good judgement, what the hell was he thinking hanging around this pastor for 20 years?" The intellectual answer is fairly easy but the political one is a killer.

So, one really heartening thing last night (besides the fact that Obama himself jumped on this, went on all the cable shows and did pretty solid damage control) was the comments on "Anderson Cooper 360" by David Gergen. Gergen, a very smart Yale/Harvard guy who for reasons I've never fully understood was an adviser to Nixon, Ford and Reagan (I'm sure there's bio material out there that explains this, I just haven't read it) and then had some kind of conversion experience when he joined the Clinton Whitehouse, clearly admires Obama. But his defense of him, and of Wright, last night was a really unique TV moment -- both intellectually acute and, it seemed to me, a genuine expression of racial understanding and empathy. I fairly couldn't believe I was seeing it on CNN. He actually brought up Frederick Douglass's 1852 speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" which Douglass delivered in Rochester New York to a gathering of abolitionists -- and which is maybe one of the 5 greatest political speeches in American history. I wrote about this speech extensively in EMANCIPATING PRAGMATISMp>

Anyway, here's the transcript

COOPER: David, how badly do you think this could damage the campaign, especially with Pennsylvania coming up?

GERGEN: I think, if he acts aggressively, as he did tonight, to address it, and then moves on, Anderson, because we have spent our whole week on all these kind of issues. And, meanwhile, the economy is going in the tank.
And, if he gets -- if these candidates -- and Barack ought to be on this next week. They have got to speak seriously about the fact, you know, what's going on economically with the stock market going down, the dollar going down, prices going through the roof on oil and all the rest.
And I think that will help a lot. But I do think -- I hope, in the next segment, we can come back to understanding that there's a discourse, there's a conversation in the black community.


GERGEN: There has been for a long time, which is different from what is in the white community. And we ought to understand and appreciate the differences...

MARTIN: Very true.

GERGEN: ... and not expect everybody to be just the same in this country.

COOPER: And that's -- we are actually going to look at that extensively, both in a package and also in a discussion with all of you, coming up.


COOPER: David, you brought this up. Why do you think that's an important point?

GERGEN: Well, because there's a long tradition, Anderson. And among black leaders to have a different view of American history, going all the way back to Frederick Douglass, who was one of the greatest American heroes of the 19th century, you know, who -- who gained his freedom from slavery [and became a] great orator.
He was invited the a July 4th celebration to give a July 4th speech in 1852, and he showed up and said, "You know, you whites see July 4 very differently from what I see it. This is not a day of celebration for us."
And I have found that in my classroom with black students frequently. When they speak their minds and when they speak their hearts, they have a very different view. I've had a young woman tell me, "July 4, we still can't celebrate it in my family, because of what's happened to us."
And I think that we as whites have to be understanding and empathic toward that and try to understand that, that people who are African-Americans legitimately have a different perspective on what American history has meant and take that into account as we hear this.
And it's not a lack of patriotism. It is a different form of patriotism. Actually, Reverend Wright may love this country more than any of us but feel we've fallen short of what we preach and believe.


Anonymous Gainell said...

Interesting to know.

November 12, 2008 at 1:30 AM  

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