Let’s set aside Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor for a moment.
After all, the most controversial thing statement this week wasn’t Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s contention that the United States deserved Sept. 11 (“You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you”) or his claim that our government may have launched the AIDS epidemic to kill blacks (“Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything”).
No, the controversial statement came in Obama’s denunciation of Wright. “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people,” Obama said. “Their situation is getting worse.” And that is what should have attracted attention.
After all, such pessimism isn’t a new idea in the Obama camp. Back in January his wife Michelle told a crowd in South Carolina that, “The life that I am talking about, that most people are living, has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl.”
Strangely, the Obamas aren’t alone in seeing things getting worse. The April 27 edition of The Washington Post Magazine attempted to predict what life in the nation’s capital will be like in the year 2025. “We studied reams of reports on the region’s future, convened two panels of experts on everything from shopping to energy policy, and we found unanimity on only one point: In 2025, the haves will have more. The have-nots won’t,” the story said.
If true that would reverse American history, which shows that over time, most people will do better.
Illustrations with the Post story showed Manhattan with a giant hole in it (courtesy of a nuclear device) and the brand-new Nationals Park overgrown and abandoned (apparently major-league baseball has given up on D.C. for a third time by 2025).
What’s with all the pessimism? Sure, it’s likely the Nationals will be dead last year after year. “Washington is first in war, first in peace, last in the standings” as they used to say about Washington’s previous team, the Senators. But there’s no reason to expect them to leave, and no reason to expect life to get worse.
In fact, it’s difficult to find a 20-year period in the U.S. where things got worse. Even if one cherry-picks a bad year -- say 1930 -- and looks back 20 years, what stands out is all the progress. During those two decades, radio went from non-existent to widespread. Telephones, electricity and indoor plumbing also made vast inroads, making lives better for tens of millions of Americans.
Still, if you’re looking for things to be pessimistic about, how about the future of American liberalism? It seems unlikely to survive this election, at least in its current form. The political movement that seems to offer nothing except identity politics is set to blow apart. Ironically, over identity politics.
Obama and Hillary Clinton have run a divisive race that looks as if it’ll go all the way to their party’s summer convention in Colorado. Party honchos are urging Clinton to drop out, but there’s no reason she should. She scored solid wins recently in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. Obama’s last primary victory feels like ancient history.
“If this party is perceived by people as having gone into a back room somewhere and brokered a nominee, that would not be good for our party,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said recently. “If this continues on its current course, [the damage] is going to be irreparable.” But what’s the alternative?
The meeting in Denver is certain to be rowdy. The party insists it won’t recognize representatives from Florida or Michigan, two big states that violated party rules and held their primaries early. That’s already triggered protests. A group from Florida recently rallied at DNC headquarters in Washington. “If the Florida delegation is not seated, we will march on Denver,” one man shouted, before he was drowned out by cheering. “We will shut down the convention,” another speaker warned. And they probably should.
This, after all, is the party that insisted in 2000 it wanted to “count every vote” in Florida. In 2008, it’s attempting to block every vote from that same state. Quite an about-face.
It’s understandably difficult to make predictions about what life will be like in 20 years. Or even five. But it’s safe to say that the candidate who survives the mayhem in Denver will go into the fall as a weakened candidate. Somehow our republic will survive, and even thrive -- just as it always has.