Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama, Sun Tzu, and the Ancient Greeks

"Know your enemy"
--Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

In Obama's speech today, he underlines why he is able to defeat more powerful foes- he seeks an understanding of why they believe the words they speak, the art practiced by ancient sophists:
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

While lower and middle class whites are not his enemy, the attitudes they may express may be in opposition to Obama's objectives, and Obama's clearly able to put on their shoes and walk a mile.

Other portions stand out as well:
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Obama paints a picture of a country that knows its faults, has a sense of justice, but just hasn't quite come to terms with how to remedy the situation of its racially polarized past and present and hobbled by a political and educational system that has institutionalized inertia. For conservatives, this may seem like a warning flag and cause for caution, but clearly the time for sitting still has passed and Obama appears to be up for the task of pushing things forward.

While its been implicit in his campaign, race has taken a backseat until now - after his pastor was called out as a bigot. At some point I'm sure the journalists and others were seizing on someone in Obama's circle to come out as being hypercritical of America and use it as a hammer against him. Michelle Obama's misquotes and hyperbole weren't enough and Obama had no cause to retaliate. In the case of his pastor, the statements were too over the top and hateful to go unnoticed and unaddressed.

My feeling is Obama was ready and waiting. This was his bomb to drop in the race and it was probably his get out of jail free card. He was able to take the issue he has more credibility on than any political actor in the US right now and steer the conversation away from his pastor and make it a larger dialogue about race in America.

It isn't that I don't believe what he says, because I do. I also think he's been sitting on this speech for some time in case someone dropped the race grenade in his lap and needed to act quickly.

"Self defence
Turns to the offense
Understand where I'm coming from?"
--Cypress Hill

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