So Grandma Isn't Perfect

Obama's speech about race is drawing rather vicious attacks from Ann Coulter and other conservatives. Before I go on, let me be clear: I disagree with Barack Obama on almost every political issue. I do not want him to be president. I will never vote for him unless he makes some truly dramatic philosophical changes. I think many of his followers are a little wacky.

This, however, does not mean I automatically disagree with every word Obama says simply because he is the one saying it. The truth is the truth, even when it comes from the mouth of someone who is not part of my Tribe and with whom I have many other disagreements.

Speaking of Jeremiah Wright, his stridently opinionated pastor, Obama said this:

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Coulter uses this to accuse Obama of "throwing Grandma under the bus." Does this really make sense? I think of my own late grandfather. I heard him say things about black people that I thought, even as a child, didn't sound right. I've now learned they were absolutely wrong. Yet I loved him dearly. I know he wasn't perfect, and I don't respect him any less because of it. I think I understand how he came to have such attitudes. It was hard to think otherwise during the formative years of his life. If he were alive today, I would love him even as I disagreed with him.

I suspect most people can relate to this. We all have people in our lives that are close to us, but with whom we have significant differences. We find ways to get past the differences so we can enjoy the positive aspects of these relationships. So I have no problem believing that Obama loved his grandma at the same time he cringed at her remarks - and I don't expect him to disown her.

This is not, of course, the view of most people on the political right. To them, Obama is from the other tribe. He is a threat. He is the enemy, and must therefore be destroyed, whatever it takes. As noted above, I have no political sympathy for Obama, but this Grandma angle is a tactic I choose not to use. A few others agree. Here's Mark Shea:

Sorry, but I don't see that as "throwing grandma under the bus". I see it as pretty much resonating with my own experience of living in community with people who have real faults and sins on their heads. There are members of my family who were quite as unabashed in their racism as Obama's pastor or grandmother. There are people I love and care deeply about who hold opinions I find repellent or kooky. Hell, in my parish there are people with views on everything from Jews to 9/11 conspiracy theories I think are nutty. I've never believed people are binary. I think it's quite possible for the most saintly person to have some thoroughly disgusting streak of wickedness.

Steven Taylor at Poliblog:

To me, this was an intensely honest portion of the speech and one of the best arguments for explaining how Obama could tolerate things that Wright has said. I find the assertions noted above that this was throwing grandma “under the bus” to be a combination of disingenuous and ignorant.

First, this was not sacrificing his Grandmother for some political gain. For crying out loud, in this passage, the man is proclaiming his love for his grandmother, and noting how she is part of him. That is hardly throwing her under the bus–this is biography.

Second, what he is clearly saying is that people we love sometimes say things that we disagree with–even sometimes saying things that we find repugnant–and yet we still love them. What is so hard to understand about that? Now, I will grant that part of the reason I find this to be an honest and easily understandable portion of the speech is that I directly identified with it, as I have had older members of my family say things about race that have made me utterly cringe. Yet, oddly enough, I continued to love them. My guess is that most people have had this experience. As such, there is not bus-throwing here, but rather a simple reflection of a common occurrence in most of our lives.

The conservatives who attack Obama for these things are not helping their cause. They are, instead, allowing ideology to overcome common decency. I prefer the approach of Peggy Noonan, who reviewed Obama's speech and found it "strong, thoughtful and important."

Today is Good Friday, when we recall the suffering and death of One who loved us all, despite our many faults. It's a good time to remember the example Christ gave us. We can disagree with ideas without hating the one who holds them. Personally I have great difficulty with this, but I'm working on it.

No comments: