Thursday, April 17, 2008

Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Senator,

I'd like to start out by saying that I'm a strong supporter of yours and have enjoyed being active in your campaign. I helped organize the get out the vote canvass here in Bowling Green, Ohio - there are even pictures of me working on it in the Getty Images photo pool of the day's events. I think you represent our best hope of real political change in our country.

That said, I have one question regarding last night's debate:

What the hell was that?

Seriously Senator, what the hell? I understand that the questions were nonsensical and a complete distraction from the actual issues facing our country, I understand the moderators did Hillary's attack job for her, I'm as pissed about it as everyone else in the liberal internet-sphere.

But here's where I, with all due respect Senator, think you went wrong when confronted with those questions:

you flinched

You didn't hit back hard and stick to your convictions, you waffled and stammered. The "bitter" question, I'll admit, you got just about right - but with only about the tenth of the energy you really needed to hit it with. The Wright explanation, on the other hand, is a disaster. Again, Senator, I realize you have very experienced campaign operatives working for you, and I am just a grad student and volunteer in Northwest nowhere Ohio, but I really take issue with how your campaign has decided to respond to that question - at least your "short form" answer, the longer Race Speech in Philadelphia was brilliant.

The short answer you gave last night (which seems to be the standard for the campaign) went something like this, "I didn't know Pastor Wright said those awful things, and the awful things he said don't reflect the other good things the church has done. I trust the American people to understand my views aren't Pastor Wright's views, and that Pastor Wright's views are part of a larger context." Senator, if you are going to trust the American people, you have to trust them all the way. You have to trust them to understand Pastor Wright's context, and to reject the notion that you and he share the same politics. Your current answer, on the other hand, attempts to disconnect you from the Pastor's remarks by denying you ever heard them, which suggests you really don't trust Americans to do this, and instead feel the need to make a denial which stretches the bounds of plausibility even for your most staunch supporters: that you did not know what your Pastor of 20 years was saying on the pulpit. I've watched a number of flame wars erupt over these remarks in a variety of online forums, Senator, and not once did your supporters use your denial as a part of their own argument as to why Pastor Wright's remarks should not disqualify you for the highest office in the land. Instead, they have appealed to the basic truth of the second part of your answer: that Wright's fiery sermons make sense in the context of a Black church community struggling to deal with the realities of oppression in the United States, even if the words of these sermons are often over the top; that a church should not be judged by the words of its Pastor alone; and that suggesting that a man's ideas are exactly the same as his Pastor's is absurd.

This sort of waffling, this attempt to deny and then explain continued throughout the debate. Again, I understand the questions were bogus, but just because we want to transform American politics does not mean we can expect it to transform itself for us. We're going to have to be able to operate in the current political environment, until we have secured the ability to transform that environment. The bogus corporate media cannot be ignored, it must be defeated.

In my humble opinion, the way to do that, Senator, is to trust the American people and to trust them all the way. Don't flinch, don't waffle, don't deny. Explain, persuade, and stand up for yourself. One of the things that first attracted me to your campaign was the strength and confidence with which you did these things in the early days of the primary season - a seeming million years ago. As the season has gone on, that confidence has seemed to wane and falter, and I think I know why: you have something to lose now. And so, like so many Democratic candidates before you, you've stopped fighting to win, and started fighting not to lose.

Please, Senator, if by some odd chance you should actually encounter this small letter written by a small campaign volunteer, I have just one request to make. A request I believe will be shared by millions of others just like me.

Fight to win again, Senator. Fight like you have nothing to lose. Democrats have been betting small and losing small for generations now. Look where it has gotten us. It is scary to bet big, but it may be the only chance we've got.

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