Global, Identity, Politics, Uncategorized

An America for My Grandfather as Told by Barack Obama

In some deep way, parts of American Judaism are still paralyzed by fear and still suffering from holocaust induced post-traumatic-stress. Going to day school I felt it, and being the grandson of survivors I know the narratives in a deeply personal way. We often hear that things seemed just fine in Germany before the Nuremberg Laws. Of course, everything wasn’t fine and all it took was an economic disaster to bring long-held hate to the surface in the form of blame. In some ways, our country today, looks a bit similar. Beset by enormous economic trouble we don’t yet know how our fellow countrymen will respond. A we-are-never-safe Jew might worry that– between all the Jewish Wall Street tycoons and Greenspan presiding over the run-up that resulted in collapse–rosy days might not be ahead. I don’t buy that analysis but at the same time I know how deep the narrative runs and re-runs. That is why it was so heartening to read Obama’s speech on race given earlier today (I hope to watch later, at home). An amazing excerpt from the speech on the flip:
Here is an excerpt:

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

Though the vision doesn’t talk about Jews specifically it fights against the idea that minorities should be constantly on edge that one day, when the shit hits the fan, and the problems are great, that the “real Americans” will behave like the “real Germans”. It says that we are all, together, the “real America.” My grandfather recently passed away but this is the sentiment, the dream, he was chasing when he fled Dachau, a place where he could be a real citizen. It is beautiful to hear a major candidate offer such an inclusive message (and mean it). This articulation of what America truly is and what politics should be about is, to borrow a phrase, very good for the Jews.

17 thoughts on “An America for My Grandfather as Told by Barack Obama

  1. I thought it was “Don’t do unto others…”
    I think it’s a bash on Judaism and a pro-Christian rhetoric. But
    I’m okay with it. It’s fine, we shouldn’t have a Jewish president or governor (for a ton of reasons), but please recognize that this is a Christian speech all the way. Also remember, it is Christians who have done us in (in the Western World) time and again.
    It’s race Obama protects, and ideology he fights. Who is the bad guy? What ideology must give way? Is it Judaism and tenants about leaving people be? Is it the Jew who stands in the way of his next world order?

  2. Could you dismiss these remarks as high falutin’ preacher style puff theatrics? Tisk tisk the soaring, inspirational metaphors? Not this time.
    What we have here is a speech that will be regarded as highly as the oratories of Pericles… can you think of a speech delivered by a representative of America’s government that speaks about race and America’s ambivalence/avoidance/denial that was as candid and personal as this? Let’s hear it…

  3. biggity-B- can you support any of this with excerpts from the speech?”
    why is it bashing judaism?
    why is it pro-christian?
    what exactly does “protecting race” mean?
    what ideology are you claiming he is fighting?
    whya re you assuming an ideology must give way or that there is a bad guy?
    because I didn’t see anything close to that in his speech.

  4. There’s something disingenuous about this speech, or at least the excerpt posted here. (I haven’t seen/heard/read the entire speech.) He says we shouldn’t talk about race only in times of crisis, but then goes on to talk about ongoing problems as though they affect people of all races equally. If we take a race-blind approach to everything, then how do we solve the inequalities that fester until they explode under the pressures of something like Katrina?

  5. “But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

  6. sarah m. You cannot allow your love of a man to blind you:
    why is it bashing judaism? “all the world’s great religions” insinuates that he does not include Judaism because this is not a Jewish idea. Judaism stands for ‘Don’t do unto others…’ Big difference.
    why is it pro-christian? Please, the whole first paragraph sounds like the words of a preacher, quoting “Scripture” and all.
    what exactly does “protecting race” mean? see: “future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children”
    what ideology are you claiming he is fighting? “long-held hate”
    why are you assuming an ideology must give way or that there is a bad guy? see “politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism”
    ‘because I didn’t see anything close to that in his speech.’
    Well, I do. I don’t really have a problem with it. This country has always been governed by a Christian. Just, please everyone stop saying he is good for Jews, or the Messiah. He’s either a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or a Christian out to change the world as he sees fit.

  7. why is it bashing judaism? “all the world’s great religions” insinuates that he does not include Judaism because this is not a Jewish idea. Judaism stands for ‘Don’t do unto others…’ Big difference.
    A normal read of this, i think, would go like this:
    1) the world’s great religions contain the ideas of Don’t do unto others/my brother’s keeper.
    2) Judaism contains those ideas.
    I am confused as to how this is a swipe at Judaism. Are you suggesting that it does not contain those ideas? That other religions don’t also contain them? Without some substantial clarification, the default position is that Judaism is being included in the World’s Great Religions.
    why is it pro-christian? Please, the whole first paragraph sounds like the words of a preacher, quoting “Scripture” and all.
    There is a difference between using biblical language and being interested in theocracy. Brother’s keeper, etc, is no more Christian than it is Jewsih. More to the point the concept is also prevalent in Atheist, Communitarian, and countless other non-religious discourses.
    Pro-Christian is generally code for pro-theocracy. That is how guys like Falwell, Robertson, et al us it. It seems quite clear to me that Obama, a former constitution law professor, civil rights attorney, and champion of minority inclusion is supportive of a mutli-ethnic multi-religious America. His speech in 2004 convinced me that he is committed to celebrating America’s diversity and recognizing our interdependence. Those themes were reiterated in his speech on race. What did you mean, Biggity-B, when you said he was “pro-Christian.”
    Another few questions:
    Since when is “Hate” and ideology?
    How did you jump from Obama’s recognition that children of all races face economic hardship and other challenges to “protecting race”? What “protecting race” mean? Why does it bother you? The word protecting never appears in his speech so I am assuming you brought it to the conversation.

  8. I think Biggity-B is recognizing the difference between the positive formulation “do unto others”, and the negative formulation more common in Judaism “do not do unto others”.
    And I think that, while the distinction is real and worth discussing, it’s also subtle. The idea that Judaism does not also contain the ideals of the positive formulation is really splitting hairs. And the idea that implying that Judaism does contain this ideal is tantamount to bashing Judaism is pretty absurd to me.

  9. Here’s a Q:
    What if Obama rises to power, and recognizes the ideologies of Judaism, along with others, in a category that is opposed to his world order?
    What if Judaism’s tenants don’t work in a hate cleansing society. A society where “the only thing to hate, is ‘hate’ itself”. Will they silence our Rabbis? Will they purge the religious? Will someone else rise up who is willing to take it a step further? Someone who will see all Jews, the third and the fourth generation of assimilated individuals as part in parcel of the problem?
    I’m not saying that Obama is a bad candidate, or that he is even “pro-theocracy”. I just mention that he does not espouse the tenants of Judaism. Obama is not the “Messiah” to Tikkun Olam.
    CHANGE: Change is something to fear, not embrace, for the Jew, anywhere. In times of upheaval and renewal we have often found ourselves on the wrong end of the pike. America is now starting to look like times past- where Jews assimilate, assume great power, influence, and great control. (Think medieval Spain and 19-20th century Germany). All it might take is some hard times and need for a scapegoat to send us packing.

  10. What if Obama rises to power, and recognizes the ideologies of Judaism, along with others, in a category that is opposed to his world order?
    If that happened, everyone would be in a whole lot of trouble. Several very unlikely things would need to happen before that scenario, shocking and sad as it is, would arrive.
    1) Obama would need to rise to power
    2) He would need to see Judaism as an ideology rather than a people or religion. Given the ideological diversity among Jews, think Greenspan to Marx, Heschel to Abramoff.
    3)Obama would need to somehow derive the power to create a world order (
    4) If Jews were to be in any real danger he’d need to adopt a race-centered view of religion.
    5) He’d need to think Jews were part of the problem (no evidence in favor and lots of evidence against this claim)
    6) etc etc
    To think that Jews could possibly be endangered by Obama is silly. Moreover it isn’t supported by any real facts so much as guess work and rumor.
    Your main point seems to be that he doesn’t use Jewish principles when campaigning. Do any non-Jewish politicians? Do most Jewish politicians. In general Jewish politicians use terms like Mitzvah, Tikkun Olam, etc when speaking with Jewish audiences. Obama jokes about being named Baruch, and uses plenty of Yiddish and Hebrew terms. I imagine Hillary does to and think McCain probably tries but it comes out stiff and strained like most of his public speeches.
    Lastly, to your question:
    What if Judaism’s tenants don’t work in a hate cleansing society. A society where “the only thing to hate, is ‘hate’ itself”
    I’d strongly consider leaving the fold as would, i suspect, most Jews. Thankfully most modern Jews understand Judaism as being loving, justice-seeking, and against hate. If a majority (or even a substantial minority) of American Jews started espousing the sort of hate that would label Judaism a religion of hate, Obama would be the least of our problems.

  11. America’s economic problems have two root causes. Immigration and outsourcing. Outsourcing is an obvious evil but Jews seem to have a romantic ideal about unrestricted immigration of all nations into america. So I’ll tackle that one here.
    The fact is that everything that Jewish political groups are fighting for (claiming to actually) is undercut by uncontrolled immigration. When mexicans stream across the border taking low wage jobs it takes jobs away from native (born in america) americans. Not to mention it depresses the wages of americans who are not replaced with cheap illegal immigrant labor.
    On the other side of the spectrum you have legal immigrants who come here on H1-B visas taking engineering jobs from US citizens. So basically americans are boxed in. There is no income mobility either on the bottom or the top of the skill ladder.
    I won’t even mention the harm the spanish speaking illegal immigrants and their children cause to the school system on account of not being able to speak english. That’s because even if they know english, learning stuff like “fuzzy math” and “whole language” isn’t going to do them much good later in life.
    Why am I talking about all this? Basically Barack Obama or any other president isn’t going to accomplish squat if they don’t end immigration into the US. Especially the illegal variety. Some may claim that these illegal immigrants are necessary for the US economy. Does anyone actually believe that during a recession it’s wise to bring in millions of extra employees? Seriously? Anyone?

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