Intolerance and politics

I’ve been quiet on the Obama/Rev. White subject, but not because I’ve been ducking it. Well, not exactly. I’ve started, stopped, and discarded this post at least a half-dozen times in the last week. I’ve started and deleted almost as many comments on other blogs. The reason is simple (if not predictable): I’m torn. Believe it or not, this post is the product of a week of reading (here, along with Slate, Salon, and Newsvine) and thinking (which may once again cast doubt on my capacity for critical thought).

I don’t want to sound defensive, but defenses keep coming to mind. One discarded post explained my fear that this would be Obama’s Willie Horton moment, while McCain gets a free pass on his merry band of religious right-wingers (Hagee, Falwell, et al – whose comments about 9/11 were just as whacked as Rev. White’s).

Another discarded post wondered why so many Americans see the Democratic Party as the party that hates America. I’ve seen at least one article on the web which wondered if the different reactions to Rev White, Hagee, and Falwell (in volume, if not tone) were due to race; but I wonder if it has more to do with the perception of our political parties. Despite being the party of civil rights, welfare, and progressive tax policy… it’s the Democrats who seem to be seen as elitist, America hating snobs. Despite being the party of zero-tolerance, security over liberty, and regressive tax policy… it’s the Republicans who are seen as America loving, good Christian regular Joes. Are Rev. White’s comments easier to condemn because they fit a mold we’ve constructed, while McCain’s friends’ comments are easier to excuse as a slip, because we “know” they’re good Americans?

You know what? None of this is helping me much. If the only thing you can say is “the other guy’s just as bad,” you’re not far from “my guy’s no better.”

You see I want to believe Obama’s better, and not just because he can pull off an amazing speech. Obama positioned himself as a candidate of hope and inclusiveness, and I think it gives this scrutiny a whiff of legitimacy. It’s hard to reconcile the candidate of hope with the screaming videos of Rev. White on YouTube. Like many people (according to surveys), I’ve left churches where I didn’t feel comfortable with the tone set by it’s leadership, so I understand the folks who wonder why Obama would stay in a church where intolerance may be tolerated. But I also understand a YouTube video doesn’t always represent the sum of a man’s character, or more importantly, the character of his friends. I’ve been around churches, even very large ones, where the pastor is more than just the guy who preaches on Sundays, more even than just a friend. So I also understand Obama’s explanation for why he’d stick around – provided those angry moments were the exception, as he claims. You could even argue the folks who’ve suffered through slavery and segregation are entitled to a little venting every now and again. What excuse do the Falwells of the world have?

So, you’re still not satisfied? If it makes you feel any better, neither am I.

While I’d really like to believe in my President (the next one), maybe my problem is that politics have a way of weeding out believable characters. Maybe I’ve set the bar too high. I want a person who inspires, who brings out the best in people, someone who is beyond reproach… you know, the kind of person who only exists in fiction. Sometimes that’s the problem with hope, it has a way of turning into disappointment.

I still have hope that Obama’s the candidate I want him to be. I still see him as my best hope among the current choices. The news of the last week just gives me a little less to base it on. But at the end of the day he’s still a candidate who’s positions and governing philosophy are a pretty good fit (for me).

What I’d really like to believe is that this episode doesn’t weaken Obama in the long term, but makes him stronger; not just as a political player, but in the reassured eyes of the electorate. It might even be a good thing that it’s coming out now, rather than the middle of October. If this is the biggest skeleton in his closet, he may be in really good shape come November – when it’s most important. Yeah, believe it or not, there is a bit of an optimist in me. I’m still hoping for a candidate and a President that helps us prove to others, and ourselves, that we really believe the values (many of) our founders espoused.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d better check my temperature again. If I come across as a little intolerant myself this evening (it could have been worse, I deleted at least one reference to right wing-nuts), I blame it all on my cold. (I guess I’m glad it’s good for something.)


  1. I agree.

    Taking this off on a tangent… I was just sitting here with my son (both of us trying to shake a cold), thinking about the questions he might ask when he’s older (if it turns out 2008 is one of those years folks find interesting enough to ask about), and I was wondering what might be around the corner… what else I might have to explain. Six months ago I don’t think I would have guessed Obama would be the candidate getting the scrutiny over what church he attended.

  2. I’m torn too. I still support Obama for the presidency, but more skeletons like this one will test my loyalty.

    Most people don’t (I think) switch pastors the way they switch doctors or lawyers (if they’re dissatisfied). Most people (I think) stick with their church and pastor even if they disagree with something uttered at the pulpit. The Wright case is an extreme one, to be sure, but I’m going to let it go and hope there’s no more of this kind of stuff in the closet.

Give the gift of words.