I saw and heard something remarkable this past week. I saw Barack Obama deliver a courageous and eloquent speech that he actually wrote himself.
A politician who can write his own speeches and not sound like the idiot he usually is has become a rarity in American politics since the Madison Avenue types took over the political process. The typical political speech is a product of the staff and has been carefully crafted to appeal to all the points brought up by pollsters and focus groups.
Obama was victimized by the old guilt-by-association ploy. Somebody dug up some video clips of Obama’s minister making some strong criticisms of America, as if Obama were responsible for the words of another person. The implication of such specious criticism is that since Obama didn’t draw a pistol and shoot his pastor dead, he must agree with what the pastor said.
And, naturally, the clips are sound bites taken out of context. Who among us is responsible for what somebody else says or thinks? I hear people all the time with whom I disagree. I’m sure many people disagree with my opinions. No one in the normal world thinks it is necessary to "denounce and reject" someone else’s opinion just because you disagree with it.
Yet it was clear that political operatives, including the talking heads on television, were going to crucify Obama for something his pastor said. Obama stepped up to the challenge and met the subject of race and racism head-on. Most politicians avoid the subject like the bloody pox. He rejected the pastor’s comments in question. He called them stupid. But, shades of Harry Truman, he did not reject his former minister, who has since retired. This pastor, an ex-Marine, has been a father figure to Obama for 20 years. Obama, unlike most of the cynical cowards in politics, was not going to throw a man who had been a friend to the wolves.
When Truman was vice president, a political boss in Kansas City died. This man, Tom Pendergast, had been a friend of Truman and helped him when he needed it. Truman’s aides had fits when he said he was going to the man’s funeral. It would be bad public relations. Truman’s foes were already slandering him by painting him as a puppet of the Pendergast Machine. Truman was adamant. He was not going to turn his back on a friend, and to hell with the political consequences. He went to the funeral. The press crucified him, but Truman didn’t care. As he said later, what kind of man wouldn’t go to his friend’s funeral just because he’d be criticized for going?
Well, Obama put his political ambition on the line. He laid down a challenge to the American people. Do you want authenticity? Here it is. Do you want somebody with the courage to make a tough decision that’s going to cost him politically? Well, here I am.
So, instead of caving in to political expedience, he explained why many blacks of his minister’s generation have that anger born of their experience with racial prejudice. Then he explained why many whites are also angry because of what they perceive as injustices caused by affirmative action and favoritism. People should have stood up and cheered.
A president doesn’t need the kind of courage it takes to charge a machine gun or to dodge missiles in a fighter plane. The kind of courage a president needs is the fortitude to make the right decision even when it will be politically unpopular, as Truman demonstrated time and again.
Barack Obama just demonstrated that he has that kind of courage. My estimation of him went up, because I’m sick and tired of these weasels who avoid anything that their staff says might cause them to be a shade less popular. You want a real man with guts in the White House? Well, Obama fits the bill.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.