Obama has had numerous occasions to assert leadership on values issues this summer: Arizona's crude anti-immigrant law, the battle over Prop 8 and gay marriage, and the backlash against what Fox News persists in calling the "Ground Zero mosque." These battles raise fundamental questions of national identity, liberty, and individual rights. When Lindsey Graham argues for rewriting the Constitution to eliminate the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, or Newt Gingrich proposes a Saudi standard for the free exercise of religion, they're taking positions at odds with America's basic ideals. But Obama's instinctive caution has steered him away from casting these questions as moral or civil rights issues. On none of them has he shown anything resembling courage. [links sic]To Weisberg's list, I'd also add the need for comprehensive, carbon-limiting energy legislation. Treating undocumented immigrants like human beings, Muslim and gay Americans like citizens, climate change as a genuine impending human-created disaster—these are all inherently moral positions. Liberals have long been sick of watching that morality overruled by the weird, selfish, other-hating morality of contemporary American conservatism. I voted for Barack Obama (and I think lots of us did) because he seemed likely to articulate liberal beliefs in explicitly moral language, and do it with conviction.
Remember his campaign speech on race? With his feet to the media fire over his apparently scandalous association with Jeremiah Wright, Obama acknowledged the subtleties and complications of our national racial history, without losing sight of basic principles of right and wrong:
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.That's the Barack Obama I wanted to be President. I could've sworn I voted for that one. But it doesn't seem to be the guy who ended up in office.
Candidate Obama at a rally in Pittsburgh, 21 April 2008. Photo by BarackObama.com.