Will Jeremiah Wright sink Barack Obama?

Glenn Loury thinks the Jeremiah Wright incident reveals an insoluble contradiction at the root of the Obama campaign. Unsurprisingly, I disagree. And I think there’s a perfectly good extra-political explanation for Obama’s refusal to leave his church in the face of the pastor’s occasional “crazy uncle” behavior.

Glenn Loury and I are old friends and intellectual sparring partners. He’s among the least predictable people I know, because he insists on thinking things out for himself and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and also because his thinking is too full of nuance to have predictable results even if you know roughly where he’s coming from.

I wouldn’t have predicted, for example, that Glenn would have been a supporter of Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, a topic we debated on Bloggingheads.tv.

We have continued our exchange off-line, and with his permission I am posting a recent part of that back-and-forth:

GL to MK:

Mark:

I’m interested in your take on the current goings-on re. Jeremiah Wright. I hate to say it, but ‘I told you so.’ I read you quoted at HuffPost by Tom Edsall as follows:

************

Mark Kleiman, an outspoken Obama backer, blogger, and professor of Public Policy at UCLA, expressed no such fears:

“I think Obama has made it clear that Wright is his past, not his future. The ‘black power’ stuff is precisely what Obama has chosen to reject. Wright has now been bounced from the campaign’s clergy group. So I don’t think there’s a legitimate political issue left there.”

Kleiman argued that “unlike Dukakis, Mondale, Gore, and Kerry, Obama has the wit to avoid being boxed in to a false narrative created by his opponents and their journalistic dupes and accomplices,” then adding, “Time will tell.”

**********

I regret to inform you that this is wishful thinking, my friend.

What is more, there’s a double-bind problem here.

Why didn’t BO innoculate himself against this horrific episode by pre-emptively rejecting, denouncing and repudiating Wright’s preaching… It now seems obvious that the BO campaign didn’t get out in front of this revelation &#8212 which can come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about black preaching; Wright is very well known as a brilliant and powerful iconoclastic voice in that world; tapes of Wright’s and other prominent black pastors’ sermons are sitting in the archives of thousands of black churches, and are exchanged avidly amongst believers around the country &#8212 is that there would have been, as there may yet be, a fiercely negative reaction from black people to such an obviously self-serving move. (Prominent blacks would have argued, contrary to the campaign’s interests, that “we were good enough for you to hang with you needed our votes here in Chicago, before you started running for higher national office, but now you’re kicking us to the curb.)

Simply put, the campaign didn’t want to discourage the racial bloc-voting amongst blacks which has nurtured its success. The central contradiction of Obama’s candidacy has been laid bare &#8212 it is a tricky business, to say to least, to declare that one wants to ‘transcend race’ even as, at one and the same time, one is leaning on black racial loyalties as a vital pillar of one’s electoral success. (It has not been the only pillar, for sure; it has always been a balancing act.)

Now it seems that the candidate will be hoist on his own petard. There is no Romney-explains-Mormonism-type speech that Obama can fashion that at one in the same time assuages the legitimate concerns raised by the Jeremiah Wright ‘revelations’ while avoiding an ugly ‘blacklash’ from the racial fever swamps.

Being a native of Chicago’s southside (I graduated from a high school that is about 1.5 miles from Trinity United Church of Christ), I know whereof I speak… But, as you say, time will tell.

GL

MK to GL:

Glenn:

You did indeed tell me so. We’ll see whether you were correct.

My reading is that nothing Obama does now will shake his black support, and that the whites who will be scared off by Jeremiah Wright mostly weren’t available as Democratic voters anyway.

It’s possible to put a less negative construction on Obama’s failure to pre-emptively trash Wright. (He’d already been careful to keep him away from the campaign; you’ll recall the fuss about Obama’s dis-inviting Wright to the campaign kick-off.) If you think Obama’s

conversion experience was sincere, and that Wright was one of the moving forces behind it, then it might seem likely that Obama felt, and feels, gratitude toward him, even while regarding him as in some respects a crazy uncle. And he might have some scruples about saying bad things about the church where he was baptized and married and where his children were baptized.

Mark

GL to MK

Mark:

Just one more word on this. You wrote:

My reading is that nothing Obama does now will shake his black

support, and that the whites who will be scared off by Jeremiah Wright

mostly weren’t available as Democratic voters anyway.

This may be right, but misses the point, I think. Shaking his black support is not the issue, and besides, that would have little direct electoral consequence for him at this point in the primary campaign. He’s already garnered the benefit of solid black electoral backing in racking up now what looks like an insurmountable pledged delegate lead. The danger to BO from this prospective ‘blacklash’, as I see it, is that it would undermine the credibility of a very real, tacit threat on which he’s relying &#8212 namely, that, should he be denied the nomination, blacks will take a walk from the polls in November. Should he decide, as I understand he’s being advised now, to come out with a major address denouncing what I’ll call the ‘Jeremiah Wright’ tendency within black American public culture &#8212 which, I must emphasize, is far more deeply ingrained than many people recognize &#8212 this would, I predict, engender strong negative reactions from ‘respectable’ black public figures, and make the threat of blacks sitting on their hands come this fall far less palpable.

Just a thought. Who knows? But we’ll see in due course.

GL

Fortunately, I don’t think Obama needs any “threat” to hold on to the nomination; he’s simply going to have the delegates. I’m still betting on Obama to be the nominee, and, if nominated, to win the election. The joint probability may be less than 0.5, but somewhere I read that “hope” is the name of a virtue.

[Full text of Obama’s speech today at the jump.]

*”A More Perfect Union”

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama

Constitution Center

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania*

**

/As Prepared for Delivery/

//

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across

the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words,

launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and

scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to

escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of

independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring

of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately

unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a

question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a

stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue

for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to

future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded

within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the

ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised

its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be

perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from

bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full

rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be

needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do

their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the

courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great

risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the

reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign

– to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a

more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous

America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history

because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time

unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by

understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common

hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the

same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a

better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity

of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I

was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a

Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white

grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth

while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America

and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black

American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an

inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers,

sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every

hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I

will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even

possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it

is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this

nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are

truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to

the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this

message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a

purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of

the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the

Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African

Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At

various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either

“too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the

surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has

scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization,

not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the

discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my

candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based

solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial

reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former

pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express

views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but

views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation;

that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of

Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging

questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of

American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him

make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in

church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?

Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your

pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply

controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak

out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly

distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as

endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we

know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle

East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel,

instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical

Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive,

divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when

we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two

wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care

crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are

neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that

confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals,

there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are

not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first

place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if

all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons

that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if

Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being

peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in

much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met

more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my

Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one

another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who

served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at

some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who

for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing

God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the

needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison

ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of

my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a

forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in

that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that

cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the

stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and

Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s

field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope –

became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood,

the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed

once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future

generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at

once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our

journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that

we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study

and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black

churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its

entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the

former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are

full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of

dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the

untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the

fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and

successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the

black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright.

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He

strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children.

Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any

ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he

interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within

him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he

has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no

more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped

raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who

loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who

once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street,

and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic

stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this

country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are

simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the

politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just

hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as

a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro,

in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated

racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore

right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made

in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and

amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that

have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race

in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our

union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply

retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come

together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the

need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this

point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried.

In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history

of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves

that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American

community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an

earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and

Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t

fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the

inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the

pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through

violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to

African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access

FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force,

or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any

meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps

explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the

concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s

urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and

frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family,

contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare

policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic

services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play

in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code

enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect

that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans

of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and

early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and

opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how

many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and

women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way

for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of

the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were

ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That

legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men

and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or

languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future.

Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism,

continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and

women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and

doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness

of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of

white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the

barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is

exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make

up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the

pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to

hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us

of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs

on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too

often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us

from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents

the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to

bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to

simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only

serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community.

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have

been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the

immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them

anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their

lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their

pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their

futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant

wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum

game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to

bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an

African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot

in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never

committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban

neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t

always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the

political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and

affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians

routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk

show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking

bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial

injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white

resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle

class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing,

questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington

dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that

favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of

white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without

recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens

the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck

in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and

white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond

our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single

candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith

in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we

can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have

no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the

burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means

continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of

American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for

better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger

aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the

glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying

to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own

lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with

our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may

face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never

succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can

write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative –

notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s

sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is

that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that

society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke

about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was

static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country

that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the

highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black;

Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably

bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that

America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have

already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can

and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means

acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not

just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of

discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less

overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with

words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities;

by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal

justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity

that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all

Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense

of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of

black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America

prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less,

than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto

others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper,

Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that

common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect

that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that

breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as

spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we

did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We

can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk

about them from now until the election, and make the only question in

this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow

believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on

some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the

race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to

John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking

about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another

one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come

together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the

crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and

white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native

American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells

us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us

are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids,

they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st

century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are

filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care;

who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests

in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a

decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that

once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk

of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem

is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s

that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more

than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and

creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under

the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a

war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged,

and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for

them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my

heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this

country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after

generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today,

whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this

possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the

young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have

already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today

– a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s

birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia

who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been

working to organize a mostly African-American community since the

beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable

discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they

were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer.

And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her

health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley

decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley

convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat

more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that

was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone

at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that

she could help the millions of other children in the country who want

and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her

along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who

were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into

the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her

fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks

everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have

different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And

finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there

quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does

not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the

economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he

was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the

room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of

recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not

enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the

jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as

so many generations have come to realize over the course of the

two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that

document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com