Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama says...

From his Berlin speech:

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares.
As poetic as it sounds, I think the bit about views being expressed in "public squares" that politicians often plug into speeches, and others often use, is less and less worth it for how pretty it sounds when balanced against how inaccurate it is.

America is no longer a place where people stand on soap boxes in town squares and give speeches about politics to people who can't help but overhear, since all the citizens have to walk through the town square in order to take care of their personal business. Instead, people ride through the town square in vehicles with closed windows. The places where political views are most vocalized are on cable TV stations, which are cost-prohibitive megaphones except for large corporations (yet a few stations alone get to speak about news and politics to the 300 million + citizens in the country), and on the Internet, where the average citizen can speak anonymously or pseudononymously to sometimes just a few people, who may be scattered across the country and similarly unknown. These limited forums aren't really the best means for encouraging trust and faith in a common endeavor, and are nothing like being subjected to a political speech by a neighbor possibly at any time you walk into town. Instead we're cut off from our neighbors and given a version of news and opinion that originates from a very narrow slice of the national community. Probably the closest thing we have to what people had back in the days when politicians first began rhapsodizing the importance of town square are hard-copy pamphlets and newsletters-- but hardly anyone tries to print up a bunch of pamphlets and leave them under the windshield-wipers of people's parked cars in their community, which would be a lot closer to what Tom Paine was doing.

Also there was this conservative comment on the Internet (in response to Obama making some metaphorical remarks to the Germans about tearing down walls between people):
When Obama was in Baghdad he did not demand that the obscene walls that divide the city be torn down. When Obama was in Israel he did not demand that the obscene partitions erected by Israel in the West Bank be torn down. Obama is a hypocrite supreme.
Those other walls probably are not totally good, like the Berlin Wall wasn't. But to be against ugly uses of walls, a person doesn't have to talk about them in a way that's unlikely to cause change or is likely to stir up opposition against what you're doing. Obama can certainly speak against barriers between peoples-- and probably do a better job of bringing about change-- without trying to force that precise message on people where perhaps many are not ready to hear it. To every thing, there is a season, and perhaps the wall in Baghdad is doing more good than harm right now. And maybe in Israel, speaking against their wall would do more to alienate people than it would to stir up useful opposition there against it.

So this right-wing talking-point, if you see it, should be shot down.