Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wright Again

While sitting in a surgery clinic's office for a routing and time-consuming procedure (which is by way of suggesting why I haven't posted much), I read a Time magazibe. In it was this defense of Rev. Wright.

It was one of the better efforts I'd seen. It picked up on an Obama quote on patriotism that I also liked. And put it in a historical context:

It is easy to see why the words of black critics and leaders, taken out of context, can be read as cynical renunciations of country. Abolitionist and runaway slave Frederick Douglass gave a famous oration on the meaning of Independence Day, asking "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." But instead of joining the chorus of black voices swelling with nostalgia to return to their African roots, Douglass stayed put. Poet Langston Hughes grieved in verse that "(America never was America to me) ... (There's never been equality for me,/ Nor freedom in this 'homeland of the free')." But his lament is couched in a poem whose title, like its author, yearns for acceptance: Let America Be America Again.

And it correctly distinguishes nationalism from patriotism, which is something that ought to be done more. [It's one of history's odder threads, how Americans, always so famously patriotic and nationalistic themselves, tend to overlook those qualities in other people. We always thought Canada would welcome being part of our empire. And we are as surprised by China's fierce popular nationalism today as we are by China's leaders art in manipulating and cultivating it.]

But overall it left me flat. Not just because the sneers at "the 'My country, right or wrong' credo, which confuses blind boosterism with a more authentic, if sometimes questioning, loyalty" seemed to veer into -- there's that word again -- elitism. It chronicled Rev. Wright's military history, and that does matter in the equation. But then it devoted far too much space to an unstated version of the old chickenhawk argument, comparing Wright to Dick Cheney on that score.

If it comes down to Obama vs. McCain in the fall, I wonder if that chickenhawk will come home to roost?

By the way, when you go for surgery, they make you strip down to a garment they give you that's about the size of a pillowcase and doesn't even have snaps, much less pockets. Then they let you put your street clothes and valuables in a locker. With a key. Where are you supposed to ....