Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Liberalism's classic trap

Barack Obama has swept most of the United States into his serious and hopeful vision of our future. In doing so he earned his chance to serve and lead us all as President. His campaign was masterful. His oratory was inspiring. He even managed to promise to be honest in a way that convinced huge numbers of voters. That is no simple task with a normally cynical electorate.

I voted for him, but not for his warm and fuzzy message of change. I watched Obama talk to the media concerning Rev. Wright a while back and was stunned by a man who spoke to me as though I was intelligent enough to parse his carefully worded position. He made it clear he could respect a man while still disagreeing with his actions and beliefs. As if that wasn't enough, he went on to talk about race relations and how things weren't as rosy as we would like to believe this many decades after Lincoln's emancipation proclamation and the end of the Jim Crow era. This discussion was necessary to his explanation of Rev. Wright's anger and pointed out the continuing inequalities we tolerate in society through budgetary techniques for schools and social services. He explained that the anger made sense and he was dead right. His words said it, his tone said it, and his body language nailed it. I've met people who can speak and inspire, but I had yet to meet someone who could do it in a way that demonstrated a strong intellect AND a willingness to work with others and lead them past their pain. He won my vote on the day I watched that video. He kept it by running an excellent campaign that will receive a lot of attention over the many years to come as an example of how best to do it.

The history of the United States will start a new chapter with this election. What gets written in this chapter remains to be seen, but I am optimistic for us all. I don't expect magic or instant fixes for problems we face, but I do expect they will get recognized for what they are and added to the list of tasks that need to be addressed.

There is a looming trap ahead of us, though. I think it is worth describing it in order to avoid it. Many already know of it, but inspired newcomers probably don't. It is a mental trap many liberals stumble into without any thought at all. It can be summed up with the simple phrase 'Not Good Enough.' I saw it starting with election coverage last night on MSNBC when they discussed voter results in the deep south. I've seen more of it here in California among those who opposed the proposition that stripped same-sex couples of a right to marriage. We liberals tend to have a dogmatic view regarding justice and can be very hard on those who see the world otherwise. I've seen comments indirectly aimed at African-Americans asking how they could vote for a black man as our President and vote to strip gay people of a right to marry. The most pleasant way they ask is 'Can't you see the similarities?' while the harshest use the term bigot. 'Not Good Enough' is a trap. We pronounce it from our high horse much like the social conservatives do when they foam at the mouth over family and religious values. Do WE not see the similarity?

Righteous indignation is as addictive as any opiate and our dogmatism alienates the people who would otherwise be our allies. In this trap, we self-destruct and waste another generation of talented people.

Let us avoid this trap as best we can this time. Let us recognize that we didn't get everything we wanted, but we DID get quite a lot. Let us thank those who do not see the world our way for coming part way into our world. Let us thank them for what gains we have made toward a more just society for it didn't happen without their help. Never think otherwise.

Let us also recognize that it is their fear of change that discourages them from going farther. Change is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. Can we not recognize that they need our help as much as those we champion from our high horse? At the present rate of change in our world, we can ill afford to slow our pace. We risk falling on our face if we try. Let us, therefore, address their fears like we would others we support. Let us do so with open eyes and the expectation they will expand their horizons a little every day as they learn to see their fears as illusions.
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