I replayed the Obama acceptance speech from Iowa yesterday and felt the excitement all over again. A progressive, someone of my generation being buoyed by a massive wave of support. Volunteers. Millions of dollars. Massive rallies. Dazzling press. Votes.
Barack Obama has the wind underneath his sails and it's a beautiful thing to watch. But the doubt in my mind from early on in his campaign still remains: Does he really think he will transcend partisan divisions in an atmosphere of murderous right wing hardball? Related to this. The 'big tables' he promises to convene on the pressing issues might be naive after 8 years of industries and theocrats running absolutely amok.
That is the problem: talking too much about finding "middle ground" with people who are willing to exploit and harm the interests of everyday people. When you start by saying you'd rather appease them than fight they simply pull as hard from your middle position to the extreme as possible. And they are well-payed and better resourced to do it better than the average folks who are supposed to counterbalance them at that table.
Obama has faith in those "big tables", but I'm not so sure.
He asked the GLBT community to sit at a 'big table' with Donnie McClurkin last fall. How did that go?
Well, a gay-bashing performer got a world stage to tell us to stop existing, and the end result, according to the New York Times, was a signal to black evangelical voters that "race and religion are more important than Mr. Obama's support for gay rights." For me, the timid opening prayer to a half-full stadium by a white gay preacher did not even begin to undo the damage of McClurkin's message.
He would never have invited an avowedly white racist group to perform for a white audience. We would not have appreciated his respectfulness in listening to their points of view and it would not have helped to have a lone African American give a peace blessing before the festivities began. No.
His response to the GLBT community over that controversy is still up on his website. We are asked to listen and "to confront a difficult fact: There are good, decent, moral people in this country who do not yet embrace their gay brothers and sisters as full members of our shared community." He claims to want to assert his pro-gay position boldly, and the "listen to what they say in return."
Here's a difficult fact I need to know Mr. Obama can confront: At some point, beyond the rhetoric of unity and overtures to the entrenched one has to eventually draw a line and be willing to bear the brunt of the well-funded right-wing rage.
The polarization Obama wishes to transcend in this country has not emerged simply because of the combative style of Newt Gingrich or Karl Rove. It is based on fundamentally divergent interests: people on the one side who want to bankrupt us for their fortunes or millennial fantasies and people on the other side who believe people are not dispensable and that the environment is not industry's waste bin. What would be the compromise point between the ex-gay ministries and the GLBT community? Between insurance companies that give bonuses for denied claims and those whose life hangs on an "approved" or "declined" stamp.
Is there solution that would give us both a bit of what we want? I fear not. And I fear four very hard years of being out-maneuvered by anti-gay groups and coal companies willing to fight as dirty as they always have.
Don't get me wrong. I'll be thrilled to vote for any of the top three Democratic potential candidates and all of them surely have different flaws. Hillary might be less likely to underestimate how corporate or religious right interests aim at nothing less than crushing the rest of us. She'd just sell us out outright when she felt she had to, a la Don't Ask Don't Tell. We hated that, but what I like is that Clinton a) took direct responsibility for it and b) after acknowledging it upfront as a tactical mistake they are coming back to fix it.
Watching Obama basking in this historic victory is deeply moving. I hear the bandwagon gaining and I'm so tempted to get on but I'm not there yet. A friend wrote "Barack inspires my imagination, Hillary inspires my confidence." We need both, but if I'm forced to choose between them, I'm have to say I want the one whose seen the bared teeth of the far right, who will not underestimate them, will make peace where it can be made and fight to the bitter end when that is the only course of conscience. Obama's insistence on conciliation makes me question whether he is the one.