Monday, March 17, 2008

Free Speech

There’s lots we might fault the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for. His embrace of Farrakhan would be on the top of my list. But he is being slammed in the press and Obama is being forced by the good folks in the Democratic Party to shun the man for all the wrong reasons.

Inflammatory, we are told, is Wright’s suggestion that we brought on the 9/11 attacks by spreading terrorism abroad. You’re not supposed to say things like that.

Think of what that means. Just think. Lots of people in the world, including lots of Americans like me think that the 9/11 attacks are in fact strongly connected to the way Americans have beat up the world throughout the last century, proclaiming that it is bringing freedom and light to the world when it is in fact serving the interests of large corporations and not even America’s own interests much of the time.

That point is certainly arguable. I know lots of folk on the right consider it traitorous, but so what if they do? It’s a legitimate reasoned opinion and it’s an argument I get to make as a citizen of the United States. You don’t agree? Fine. Give me counter evidence. Show me what I’m leaving out and where I may have my facts wrong. But cut the crap that it’s traitorous to talk like that and that it is inflammatory for a black American to show some anger.

Wright doesn’t have to be right. And Obama should not have to denounce him or distance himself from him for being an angry black American man. There is something rotten about America that we can’t face the fact that some of us know the pain of poverty, injustice and hypocrisy first hand and see the world through that dark lens.

The Wrights of the nation should speak their piece and we should listen. Those who disagree should then speak their piece and the disagreements should find their way into the schools and courts and legislatures and any place where honest debate is embraced as a mechanism for discovering what is true.

Millions of Americans – and not just black Americans – will spot Wright’s chickens-home-to-roost comment in connection with 9/11 as a nod to Malcolm X, who made waves when he used it in reference to JFK’s assassination. If he hadn’t grown beyond black racism and Black Muslim provincialism to embrace a greater more universal struggle for justice, one that challenged the interests of the Farrakhans of America who then killed him for his betrayal of the tribal gods, he might well have eclipsed even Martin Luther King. Whatever take you might have on his blaming the victim.

Lost in the story is the irony that the Wright reference is to Malcolm X at one of his lesser Black Muslim moments, and he has good things to say about the leader of the organization that is widely believed to have done him in. But Wright is demonstrating that he understands that even a clock that is stopped is right twice a day. And Farrakhan may be a miserable anti-Semite, but his heart is in the right place when it comes to lifting black Americans out of misery. Never mind that you and I might wish his head were, as well.

It's that damn dumbing down pill America has swallowed. We have gotten so stupid that we can’t take the time to think through complexity, to filter out the wisdom in the remarks of the foolish and the folly in the commentary of the sometimes wise.

One false move, now, and it’s off with your head.

Geraldine Ferraro is also being pilloried for her comment that Obama wouldn’t be where he is today if he were not black. What insanity that we attack this lady for that remark. Of course he wouldn’t be where he is. He wouldn’t be who he is. He’d be another person entirely. You can fault Obama for his lack of experience. You can also take the view that his talents and his ability to inspire a whole new generation more than compensate for his limitations, just as you can look at Hillary as a cog in the tired wheel of American politics or as a hard-working woman whose skills would not be enough to make her a candidate if she had not been married to Bill Clinton. Views like this are expressed all the time, everywhere, in every bar, in every taxi, in every corner of the nation. Why should Ferraro have to be slapped with racism for a less-than-enlightened remark when we have the freedom of speech required to argue with her?

And, to me, saddest of all is the loss of Samantha Power as Obama’s foreign policy advisor because she happened to refer to Hillary as a monster.

What, are we all ten years old? Do we think monsters are real and to call somebody a monster is the same thing as calling them a bastard or a bitch or another of those words we still bleep out on television?

Watch an interview on YouTube with Gerri Peev, the Scotsman journalist who got the “monster” comment on tape. She provides the context – Power was in jetlag, she had just heard of Hillary’s big win in Ohio and was angry at her tactic of getting down and dirty with Obama. How many democrats think any differently? How many Obama supporters didn’t see Hillary in that moment as a monster. What hypocrisy to destroy the careers of people who speak our thoughts.

But to argue the veracity of claims that America is in part responsible for Muslim hatred, or that a black person or a woman running for president may be being given a boost for their ground-breaking capacity, or that a politician playing dirty comes across as a monster, is to miss the point.

The point is there is something tragic that we don’t get to speak freely these days.

YouTube interview with Scotsman reporter:
YouTube - Wright's "God Damn America" speech and anti-Obama take:

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