The chains that bind us

I’m not the only one to bring this up: since his landmark speech on St. Patrick’s Day, Barack Obama has been curiously absent from the public debate. I’m not saying that he’s been literally absent, but since that speech five weeks ago, Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have been relentlessly driving the debate, and even though the debate is, in essence, about him, he seems to stand apart from the debate, as if he weren’t in the room at all. 

Which brings me to this point: the debate we’ve been having these last few weeks, in all its fetid glory, is about our original sin, the one which compelled him to speak at Independence Hall: race. 

Let’s be utterly clear — the difference in policy between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is like the difference between sky blue and royal blue — in the end, it’s still blue.   

 What Hillary is saying implicity, and others explicitly, is that America isn’t ready for a black President. To which my response is:

If not now, then when? 

I’m serious! We’ve had two black Secretaries of State, three black Governors (one of them now runs Hillary’s home state), two black Senators, and numerous black Representatives. If America found itself ready for all of them, wouldn’t it stand to follow that America is ready to elect a black President?

I think — and I know this is going to ruffle a lot of feathers — that the problem lies not in “America”; the problem lies in ourselves. Let’s be honest with one another, for once, and say that the problem isn’t that “America” won’t vote for a black man; it’s that we won’t vote for a black man for the highest office in the land, no matter how talented or accomplished that man may be. 

Let me be even more brutally honest: my generation doesn’t seem to have much of a problem casting their votes for a man whose story is so quintessentially American. The vast majority of the people who say that they aren’t ready to vote for a black man are my parents’ age. It is a singular tragedy that the same people who risked their lives and fortunes to make certain that all could partake of the promise of American life are failing in this crucible.

It is ineffably sad that, regardless of the fact that this man has managed to transcend the circumstances of his birth and life, so many are willingly refusing to transcend the common threads of our history.

Think of it — if this man, who is half white, who studied at the best schools, who turned his back on the riches of this world to serve his fellow man, if this man cannot be elected, then who can? 

Is the fault with him, or with ourselves?  

This is the question that I ask all those who’ve mentored me.

How can we hold the great truths of our country and our party to be self-evident, and then tell a full fifth of our people that they must constantly await their full arrival as leaders of our people? 

How can I justify that to my friends, and yes, even the people that I’m mentoring in turn?

I cannot. I dare not. And as much as I would like to excuse those who’d rather have that cup pass from their lips, I cannot. We have not come this far to falter this close to the finish line. 

One of my favorite passages of political writing is this:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

This was Lincoln, writing 146 years ago. The next day, he freed the slaves.

This time, we have no one to emancipate us from the political dogmas of our past but ourselves. Then, as now, we must disenthrall ourselves from the political chains that bind us, and in so doing, save ourselves and the country we love.

Any leader that says, implicitly or explicitly, that we must remain pledged to those dogmas isn’t worthy of the title, and isn’t worthy of our support. 


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