Suspended between the old politics and the new

/ 17 March 2008

These past few weeks I’ve begun to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish. Sullivan writes for The Atlantic, and it says much for this publication that it values the mix of his many contradictions. (Side note, I couldn’t be prouder of James Bennet, someone I played with as a kid, who has grown up to become an extraordinary journalist and the editor of The Atlantic.)

Sullivan looks forward to the speech Obama plans to give tomorrow.

I would think much, much less of him if he disowned a spiritual guide because of that man’s explicable if inexcusable resort to paranoia and racial separatism and anger. And I would think much, much less of Obama if he had never opened himself to this subculture and its fears, hopes and resentments. That he has done all this – while still attempting to reform and explain it – is a remarkable achievement. Maybe America is not ready for this bridge, for these contradictions, for this complexity. But the promise of Obama is that his campaign appears poised to show that America is ready for this – and the immense healing it would bring.

And so we are suspended between the old politics and the new, between a Clinton who believes in her heart that America is not ready and may never be ready for this leap and should therefore adopt a politics that assumes the ineradicability of this gulf and the need to disguise it and play cynical defense – and an Obama who offers all of us a chance to see that sometimes authentic identity requires an element of contradiction, a bridging of the resentful, angry past and a more complex, integrated future.

He may fail; and the Clintons may be proven right. But he may also succeed – and what a mighty success that would be. These things are never easy; and we were lulled perhaps into an illusion that they could be. So now the real struggle starts. And it will not end with an Obama presidency; it ends with a shift from below that makes an Obama presidency possible.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve disagreed with my pastors, sometimes enough to walk out on them, almost never enough to walk out on the community around them. Recently I have walked out, finally bent past breaking by a deceitful man shepherding our parish. Rev. Wright said some things worth challenging and throwing back at him, but from what I’ve read and seen he said many more things that would nourish my soul and keep me coming back if I lived in his neighborhood. I love the thought of a President who can hold such tensions in his spirit and still lead with hope and vision.

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