June 5, 2008
Obama's Conflicted Message On AmericaBy Lee Cary
Senator Barack Obama cannot keep bottled up the clashing visions of America he has on offer for his presidency. His commencement speech to this year's Wesleyan University graduating class conveyed his conflicted message on America.
While he acknowledges how his own life is an example of extraordinary opportunity, he alludes to a nation replete with inequality and injustice.
Last May 25, Obama spoke on behalf of Senator Kennedy at a private college of 2,700 students, 700 being "persons of color." Four of every ten students at Wesleyan receive financial aid based on need, averaging $25,000. The school offers a rich curriculum that includes Ph.D. programs in six disciplines. In short, Wesleyan is one example of many higher education opportunities available to those with the desire to learn.
During his commencement speech, Obama said boilerplate things such audiences expect to hear. He encouraged graduates to not focus on their own self-interests, to "hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself," to work for peace.
As he has often does, Obama described himself as "someone who couldn't be standing here today if not for the service of others." He also called on the graduates to fight inequality and "strike a blow against injustice."
Obama's underlying message on America was this: The improbable story of my assent to the edge of the presidency could only happen in America. Yet, we're a nation of cynics and doubters who look to freshly-minted college graduates to rejuvenate us.
His is a conflicted message on America.
All societies are a mix of good and evil, love and hate, wisdom and foolishness. The question is: Upon which scalepan does Barack Obama place the greatest emphasis when weighing America? Oppression or Opportunity?
Are we, from his perspective, fundamentally a nation of liberty and justice for all? Or are we, at our roots, an unjust people who perpetuate a socio-economic caste system that serves the self-interests of an entrenched power structure?
In early May, three weeks before Obama left Trinity church, he identified the basis for his long affiliation there, telling Tim Russert that,
Those values are explicitly stated in the congregation's Black Value System. Value #8 (of 12) is entitled "Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness." Its description begins with this:
The "captors" are the powerbrokers within the white establishment that run America. The "captives" are once-enslaved and still-oppressed African-Americans.
In order to disavow the pursuit of middleclassness, church members must avoid "the psychological entrapment" whereby their captors
"Psychological entrapment" can happen when urban African-Americans join the predominantly White middle class, often moving to the suburbs. There they risk abandoning their African roots and viewing their former Black community from a White middle class perspective.
Ironically, according to this worldview expressed by Trinity's Black Value System, Obama succumbed to the psychologically entrapment of middleclassness by abandoning the church when it became an election liability among white voters.
Congressmen Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D.IL), son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson (who has grown wealthy exploiting every actual and manufactured tension between Whites and Blacks) is the national co-chairman of the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign. During the primary election in South Carolina, Jackson Jr. narrated an Obama campaign radio ad saying,
Long live the struggle!
During his June 4 speech in Minneapolis, presumptive nominee Obama illustrated the "kind of change that people are looking for" with these three stories: A fulltime Iowa student works nights in order to pay the medical bills for a sick sister. A Pennsylvania man, who lost his job, can't search for a new one because of the price of gasoline. And many can't afford a college education, something that "should not be a privilege for the wealthy few, but the birthright of every American." All victims of some sort of alleged injustice and oppression.
To struggle at all is to be oppressed by an injustice.
So, of which America is Barack Obama hoping to become President?
An America rife with the injustice and oppression that provoked the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, and that continues to suppress the hopes and dreams of a host of victims of various injustices and oppressions?
Or, an America that, every day, grows richer in opportunity for all?
Some might say the answer is both. But a President cannot lead from both positions. A leader must disavow ambiguity.
In his June 3 speech, Obama said,
Neither does America deserve one emphasizing injustice and oppression.