a bird and a bottle

Still Not An Endoresment…

I know you’re all waiting with baited breath, but I still haven’t decided whom – if anyone – to “endorse” going into the Democratic primary. It’s still early. I might. But not yet.

That said, damn Obama’s rhetoric works for me.

Andrew Sullivan’s got the full text of Obama’s recent speech (which Sullivan somewhat derisively though perhaps somewhat accurately calls a sermon) at Hampton University. Obama used the story of the shooting of a pregnant woman (in white, natch) during which the bullet lodged in the arm of the woman’s fetus. The fetus survives but has scar as a reminder.

The story makes my skin crawl a little. But what he does with it is damn good. There’s this:

And so God is asking us today to remember that miracle of that baby. And He is asking us to take that bullet out once more.

If we have more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities, then it’s time to take the bullet out. If we have millions of people going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma; it’s time to take the bullet out. If too many of our kids don’t have health insurance; it’s time to take the bullet out. If we keep sending our kids to dilapidated school buildings, if we keep fighting this war in Iraq, a war that never should have been authorized and waged, a war that’s costing us $275 million dollars a day and a war that is taking too many innocent lives — if we have all these challenges and nothing’s changing, then every minister in America needs to come together — form our own surgery teams — and take the bullets out.

And this:

If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, then we need to start with our families.

We need to start supporting parents with young children. There is a pioneering Nurse-Family Partnership program right now that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. They learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after. It’s common sense to reach out to a young mother. Teach her about changing the baby. Help her understand what all that crying means, and when to get vaccines and check-ups.

This program saves money. It raises healthy babies and creates better parents. It reduced childhood injuries and unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women’s employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children’s school readiness. And it produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program.

This works and I will expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to provide at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year. We can do this. Our God is big enough for that.

So he hits my two pet issues in a single speech: first, the country’s unconscionable jailing of hundreds of thousands of mostly poor and mostly black men and women; and second, the empty rhetoric of the American “pro-life” movement and what an America that really supports families would look like. And he gets both issues right.

Sullivan calls Obama a compassionate conservative — made in the model that Bush supposedly was. I don’t buy that. It aggrandizes Bush and ties Obama to his sinking ship at the same time. It’s also patently false. Obama’s speech rings more of the Democratic Great Society era than of early 21st century compassionate conservatism.

At root, it doesn’t really matter how we label Obama’s speech. The bottom line is that he’s talking about important issues, connecting faith to progressivism, and doing what’s even more improbable — inspiring this cynical blogger.


5 Comments so far
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Wow. My mom, who is a moderate Democrat who doesn’t really follow politics much, and I were talking about the Democratic contenders tonight, and she said she wants a candidate that has real plans to address poverty. I said that other than Edwards and mayyyybe Obama, no one had plans as far as I knew. Well, remove O from the mayyyybe column, this is fantastic. I’m showing her the text in full in the morning.

Comment by Meredith

Ditto. Beautiful text. And your analysis of Sullivan is dead on. I feel inspired myself.

Comment by professorplum

First, the era of the Great Society was also the era of uncontrolled deficits leading to stagflation. Like Bush, Johnson had no sense that he had to get money for his programs from somewhere. Obama is no different; his proposed way of paying for things, rolling back Bush’s tax cut for people making over $250,000 a year, would net the treasury a whopping $16 billion a year.

Second, I’m not convinced Obama isn’t simply telling people what they want to hear. When speaking at a university with deep civil rights roots or at an event commemorating the civil rights movement, he talks about racial inequality. When speaking to a white crowd, he says nothing of the sort.

Comment by Alon Levy

Alon, I’m not saying the policies of the Great Society are ones we should emulate, just that the language is reflective of those ideas.

And second, isn’t that just politics, telling people what they want ot hear (my cynicism is back)?

Comment by bean

Yeah, it’s just politics, sure. But it also makes it impossible for me to know whether he’ll do a single thing to reduce inequalities in education funding, or institute prison reform.

Comment by Alon Levy

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