In today’s newspapers, I’ve been reading a lot about the breach in the relationship between Senator Obama and Reverend Wright. It must be a painful time for both men, as it’s tough whenever a conflict occurs. I can understand both sides though. If I were Obama, I’d be angry that any person is assuming that he can speak for Obama’s real feelings. I think Reverend Wright should only speak for his own opinions and not assume he can speak for Obama. It must be frustrating for Obama to have to try to defend himself for opinions that he has never espoused. I can also understand Reverend Wright’s side too, though. He must be frustrated to have his words be taken out of context by the media and to have his views be caricatured.
From what I know, it seems like Obama and Wright have real differences in the way they view the world. It seems like the difference between the way a liberal views things and the way a more radical person views the world. It’s something I’ve been interested in these past few months. I’ve always been left of center, but these past few months have been the first time I’ve thought about whether I’m a liberal or whether I’m more progressive. From what I’ve learned, it seems like liberals want to reform the system but basicly see the system as being sound. Radicals tend to see flaws that are too embedded in the system for reforms to be anything but band-aids and see more radical changes in the system as needed. In my ears it seems like Obama is a liberal reformer. Reverend Wright’s comments seem like that of someone who is more radical.
The differences between liberals and radicals is nothing new. In the antislavery movement, there were the radical abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, who wanted the quick abolition of slavery and the Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery but were only willing to oppose the spread of slavery on any new territories. There was the difference between Susan B. Anthony, who felt the right of women to vote would lead to more power to women, and Emma Goldman, who felt that the vote was less important than radically restructuring the economic system to give women economic power.
I decided recently to look up some African American history, and found the difference between Booker T. Washington, who wanted African Americans to gain industrial skills and accomodate segregation laws and work behind the scenes for change, and W.E.B. Du Bois, who wanted a stronger more explicit fight for civil rights and integration and the educating of the best and brightest African Americans in the best colleges. There was the difference between Martin Luther King, who appealed to the conscience of America to live up to its highest American ideas to gain civil rights for African Americans, and Malcolm X, who felt more skeptical of American society and felt African Americans should learn to have pride in their heritage and culture and learn to help themselves.
It’s sad that Obama and Wright had such a falling out. I personally think the radicals and the liberals need each other. I think radicals are like the canary that people used to put in mines to see if there are dangerous gases for miners. The radicals are the first to point out problems in our society and they’re the first to come out with solutions. In the same way, I think a social movement needs liberals and politicians sympathetic to change to water down radical solutions and make them palatable to the rest of society. Jules Feiffer, the radical cartoonist who worked for many years in the Village Voice, said:
“I’ve always seen liberals as people who’ve taken radical ideas, whether from socialists or communists, finding ways to redefining them, relabeling them, reforming them, compromising them, and then improving the society with them. And the liberal’s job generally has been to process and homogenize the more radical notions out there for some time and make them acceptable to the mass society. And to that extent, liberals have played an important part. That liberals innovate anything is questionable. But that they innovate anything worth innovating is doubtful. The innovation comes from more radical sources generally.”