Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vacation time.

It has been years since I let go of my thought that I needed to comment on every political development of interest. And since I am on vacation, my attention has not been focused on politics, but rather on trying to identify the strange bulbous creatures that washed up on the beach after Saturday night's crazy storms. (I have not really succeeded, but they might be cannonball jellies.) Beach walks after storms are instructive. I usually tend to think of the fragility of ocean creatures in terms of broken shells, but seeing soft transparent body after soft transparent body broadens my definitions.

But after reading any number of commentaries about Obama's Philadelphia speech about race, I finally sat down this morning and read the whole thing.


I do not have a lot to add about how he seized the moment with aplomb, or about his frank assessment of race in America. But I do have a couple of thoughts about the way this moment has unfolded.

First, he received a bit of criticism for not responding immediately. Instead, he took what was almost starting to look like too long, but time enough to prepare this immensely thoughtful and nuanced response. I suspect that in the long run, the "long time" that he took will be forgotten, and what will be remembered are his words.

Second, I am impressed, yes, by the way he acknowledged the role of Wright in his religious life, but more by the fact that he will hold up some words of the man but not all. Some people have suggested that he should have left Wright's church, and that maybe he only did not because it did not occur to him to rock the boat.

But why are we as a culture so quick to separate ourselves from things with which we do not agree? Why don't we spend more time listening to the ideas of people who come from different perspectives, or who hold different convictions, or who base their thinking on different fundamental beliefs? I am not saying that in so doing we much always change our beliefs based on what we hear. But I do feel like I learn more from reading the columns of thoughtful conservatives than of mouthing-off liberals, whether I finally agree with their conclusions or not. And on a more personal level, I have a number of friends with whom I could not disagree more on issues about which I have strong convictions, but I still tend to think such people intelligent, or moral, or true to themselves.

It is a relief, and frankly it gives me quite a charge, to hear a political leader acknowledge complexity in this way.

Now excuse me: I have some marine biology to study.

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