Again, from the Diyala Province in Iraq:
Charles, my young Padawan, let me teach you the ways of the Force.
Way back in 1980, back when I was but a young lad in grade school, and you were not even a zygote, an inspirational candidate by the name of Ronald Reagan launched his general election campaign in the sleepy town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, at the Neshoba County Fair. This place is, of course, famous as the town where three civil rights workers were slain by white supremacists. During his campaign speech, Reagan included a reference to “states rights.” To this day, many liberals are still seething at what they see as the obvious racist symbolism of the location and the word choice. To this day, the mere mention of President Reagan’s name causes millions of leftists to cringe in anguish and spew out a stream of obscenities. He was a conservative who they believe was motivated by dark forces of racism–just google “Ronald Reagan Racism” and feast your eyes on the results. There’s the catalogue of unsavory characters he dealt with, the supposed racist symbolism of his language (“welfare queen”), and the supposed racism of his policies. In addition, all of this came in a package that included a wife who tyrannized staff and ordered the White House calendar according to astrological signs.
But in spite of all that, Ronald Reagan was wildly popular—the most popular president in modern American history—and is (rightly) honored by even independents and moderates for changing our country for the better and for leading us out of a dark time. Why the disconnect between the perceptions of liberals and the perceptions of conservatives and moderates? Because the Ronald Reagan they knew and experienced was nothing like the monstrous simpleton caricatured by the left. Voters judged the man himself. Not his (perceived) symbols, not his wife, and not the worst of his associates.
After reading this much of the coverage of Obama and Pastor Wright, I had one of those *gulp* moments. I thought, “are we conservatives making the same mistake that liberals made with Reagan—constantly poking beyond the attractive and charismatic surface to try to find the alleged monster lurking within?” I hate to say this, but the Barack Obama that Americans are coming to know and experience isn’t much like the caricature that is emerging on the right.
Look, I get it that Reverend Wright is extremist, unsavory, and just flat-out wrong. But who among us would deny that we would feel a bond with the man that led us to Christ? And I can also link (if I had a faster internet connection) dozens and dozens of words from Obama saying he does not share those views, that those views were flat-out wrong, and that they do not reflect the America he knows. We ignore those words at our peril just as liberals ignored Ronald Reagan’s many rebukes of racism at their peril. I get it that Barack and Michelle Obama are hip, Ivy-League libs, and his wife wrote an atrocious senior thesis. I feel like I met a lot of people like Barack and Michelle Obama at law school (in fact, he left HLS only the year before I arrived)—people caught up in the fashionable anti-American race/gender critiques of the academy, people who either dabbled in those ideas themselves or sat their comfortably and without outrage as they heard them day after day, month after month.
But it is vitally important that we understand something: Barack Obama is a politician and a personality utterly distinct from the Clinton machine that he is currently routing from the political landscape. Michelle Obama wrote a fashionably race-conscious thesis? Hillary Clinton helped defend the black panthers during law school. And have your read Hillary’s commencement speech from Wellesley? Bill is a guy that dodged the draft and stated—in writing, no less—that he “loathed” the military. Regarding unsavory pastors, how about the Clintons’ loving embrace of a thoroughly corrupt Jesse Jackson, a man whose anti-semitic statements would make Reverend Wright blush? And don’t even get me started on their alliances with Al Sharpton, a man with the blood of innocents on his hands.
Another thing, Obama’s campaign itself is much, much more uplifting about Americans and American potential than the Clinton campaign is. So it emerges that Obama’s long-time pastor is more like Ward Churchill than Billy Graham, and his wife has made some strange comments. Does that mean that Obama’s words about this country and the entire tenor of his campaign are nothing but a charade? We’re veering dangerously close to viewing Obama the way someone like Paul Krugman views Reagan.
Reagan’s toughest times came when his own actions did not match his rhetoric and when he himself fell short of the ideals that he espoused. Reagan was a conservative, and liberals were never going to support him. But independents’ and moderates’ support wavered during Iran-Contra. It wavered in the face of budget deficits. It wavered in the first debate in 1984, when it seemed for a moment that he was no longer the “Great Communicator.” How will independents and moderates waver in the face of Obama’s considerable charm? When they find out about his own record–not his pastor’s record and not his wife’s thesis. How can he “unify” when he holds views about abortion laws that are well to the left of most Americans? How can he “improve education” when he is almost completely beholden to the same teachers’ unions that got us in this mess? How can he respond to complex geopolitical challenges with zero executive experience and with foreign policy views that sound more like coffee house idealism than considered reflection? Hillary’s 3:00am “red phone” ad was exactly right. (But of course Hillary shouldn’t answer that call either). The question we should be asking Americans isn’t: “Is this man who you think he is?” (Because he’s most likely the genuinely thoughtful and charismatic person that he appears to be). The question we should be asking Americans is: “Does he believe what you believe, and is he ready for this job?”
As for using Reverend Wright’s strangeness as some kind of clue to Barack Obama’s true beliefs and character . . . Well, I don’t think we need to read tea leaves, his wife’s speeches, or his pastor’s sermons. We can read his own book. After all, who among us (except Nancy) has written a memoir before they were, you know, actually famous? As for his political beliefs, we know he’s quite liberal. When it came to Ronald Reagan, it was an absolutely shattering revelation to the left (well, to some on the left; the rest are still in denial) that Reagan’s conservative views also happened to represent the American character more then their liberal views did. I truly hope that in this new century we conservatives don’t have the same experience in reverse.