WTF: Gordon Campbell on Obama’s Speech Last Sunday

If you haven’t yet read Barack Obama’s speech a couple of months ago on race, it can be accessed here.

While nominally about Obama’s controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright, the speech was more about Americans whose opportunities have been blighted by racial, gender and economic barriers, and by an unrequited need for justice – and yet remarkably, the speech went on to make a wider call for compassion towards those who perpetuate such wrongs, because re-conciliation is the only escape route from a deforming bitterness, socially and personally.

Last Sunday, at Wesleyan University in Connecticutt, Obama gave another, virtually impromptu speech, and thanks to Matthew Yglesias for the initial link to it. The full text is here. Obama’s speech to the graduating class at Wesleyan U. included this passage :

“….Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say “chance” because you won’t have to take it. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s. But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt.

It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.

There are so many ways to serve and so much need at this defining moment in our history….. I ask you to seek these opportunities when you leave here, because the future of this country – your future – depends on it. At a time when our security and moral standing depend on winning hearts and minds in the forgotten corners of this world, we need more of you to serve abroad….

At a time when a child in Boston must compete with children in Beijing and Bangalore, we need an army of you to become teachers and principals in schools that this nation cannot afford to give up on. I will pay our educators what they deserve, and give them more support, but I will also ask more of them to be mentors to other teachers, and serve in high-need schools and high-need subject areas like math and science.

At a time when there are children in the city of New Orleans who still spend each night in a lonely trailer, we need more of you to take a weekend or a week off from work, and head down South, and help rebuild. If you can’t get the time, volunteer at the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen in your own community. Find an organization that’s fighting poverty, or a candidate who promotes policies you believe in, and find a way to help them.

At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again.

Now understand this – believing that change is possible is not the same as being naïve. Go into service with your eyes wide open, for change will not come easily. On the big issues that our nation faces, difficult choices await. We’ll have to face some hard truths, and some sacrifice will be required – not only from you individually, but from the nation as a whole.

There is no magic bullet to our energy problems, for example; no perfect energy source – so all of us will have to use the energy sources we have more wisely. Deep-rooted poverty will not be reversed overnight, and will require both money and reform at a time when our federal and state budgets are strapped and Washington is skeptical that reform is possible. Transforming our education system will require not only bold government action, but a change in attitudes among parents and students. Bringing an end to the slaughter in Darfur will involve navigating extremely difficult realities on the ground, even for those with the best of intentions.

And so, should you take the path of service, should you choose to take up one of these causes as your own, know that you’ll experience frustrations and failures. Even your successes will be marked by imperfections and unintended consequences. I guarantee you, there will certainly be times when friends or family urge you to pursue more sensible endeavors with more tangible rewards. And there will be times when you are tempted to take their advice.

But I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change this world….”

As Yglesias says, it is easy to sniff at these sentiments as banal. It is just as valid to feel moved by them. Especially when in New Zealand over the past week, the focus has been relentlessly on tax cuts and a related bag of greed, resentment and grievance. The call to reconciliation and collective action that Obama is voicing seems like a ray of hope, and there is nothing remotely like it on the New Zealand political stage right now.

WFT 2. : Will McCain Be Nader-ized?

On the same day Barack Obama was addressing the graduates in Connecticutt, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr was being selected as this year’s Libertarian presidential candidate. In an article published just before Barr’s selection, Newsweek journalist Sarah Elkins raised the prospect of Barr being a similar spoiler to Republican candidate John McCain this year, as Ralph Nader was to Democratic contender Al Gore during the 2000 election.

Elkins put it like this : “A Rasmussen poll released last weekend shows that newly declared Libertarian candidate Bob Barr (assuming he secures his party’s nomination) would likely eat into McCain’s numbers, winning 6 percent of the electorate and leaving McCain with 38 percent to Sen. Barack Obama’s 42 percent (another 4 percent would go to independent candidate Ralph Nader). So a Libertarian candidate could very well swing the election…” And swing it, just as Nader did in 2000, to the candidate on the opposite side of the political divide.

And amidst a failing US economy and the ongoing Iraq war, what will the Libertarians be using as one of their main election rallying points? Poker. That’s right, poker. In 2006, as Elkins reports, a Republican – dominated Congress voted to restrict online poker. This legislative crime against one of the most socially parasitic expressions of free choice imaginable seems to have radicalised millionaire US businessman and TV host Wayne Allyn Root, who came in third behind Barr in the party’s presidential candidate race, and who is now tipped to be Barr’s vice-presidential running mate.

“There are 12 million poker enthusiasts in this country who had poker ripped away from them in 2006,” Root told Elkins. “I’m a celebrity in their world. I can bring more gravitas to the [Libertarian Party] than it has ever had before, starting with those 12 million online poker players.” So, the no-rules, minimal government crowd are mobilizing around a maniacally hierarchical, supremely rules-based game that provides them with the illusion of being free spirits, even though the house always wins in the long run. Somehow, it figures.

3. McCain’s Running Mate. Since McCain’s age – and health, and explosive personality – continue to be potential liabilities for the Republican ticket, a corresponding weight falls on his vice=presidential running mate choice, still to be made.

The two most interesting serious contenders are the popular governors of two Southern states – Charlie Crist of Florida , and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

On sheer ability, Crist should be the front-runner. He has been a popular and telegenic figure in a key swing state, has crossover appeal to Democrats as well as Republicans, and has a past record of being so tough on crime that his nickname used to be Chain Gang Charlie. Unfortunately, Crist’s liability area is the same as McCain’s : he is viewed somewhat suspiciously by hard core conservatives. Crist supported gay civil unions, and signed into law a state bill on stem cell research that while not going beyond guidelines approved by President Bush, still managed to annoy party conservatives.

Not such problems for the 36 year old Jindal, a staunchly pro-life Catholic and first generation son of Indian immigrants. Jindal would bring youth and hard core conservative credentials to the ticket, and he has just been editorially annointed as the best contender by the conservative Washington Times newspaper. He can be expected to go head to head with Obama on youth, ethnicity and charisma. The problem of course, is that Jindal’s very youth and inexperience would blunt McCain’s ability to paint these same qualities as liabilities in Obama.

At 36, Jindal can probably afford to bide his time. In any case, it is a tossup whether any ambitious politician with a future would really want to hitch their wagon to McCain this year – trying to carry John Kerry across the finishing line in 2004 didn’t do much for the career of the then young and ambitious John Edwards.