Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A New Heart

From the memorial service in Dallas to mourn the loss of five police officers shot and killed:

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
George W. Bush

"And today, in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible -- (applause) -- I see what's possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.

We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.

That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right."

President Obama

These words of reconciliation, like other quotes out of context, don't give a full picture of this speech.  It also told hard truths, both about what each side is ignoring and what each side is right about, and about the difficulties of  achieving progress.

  Behind the President were police in uniform and people not in uniform, some wearing black.  Among this background group visible throughout the speech, the black women completely followed and understood everything he said (recognizing at times the church cadences), the white women much of it--you could see that.  The white men wore white men masks.  So who knows what they heard?

But President Obama outlined the problems and the approach to solutions.  He expressed doubts and failures, but recognized successes and insisted on hope.  He did what a President is supposed to do: he represented the whole nation, including its history and its hopes, and what they must mean now, and for the future.

Update: The New York Times said President Obama's speech "will most likely be seen among the rhetorical high-water marks of his presidency." Historian Michael Beschloss said it was "elegant, moving and powerful." It was also praised by the Dallas Morning News.  But it was viciously attacked by right wing and rabid right media, including castigating those who praised it, like Chris Matthews and historian Douglas Brinkley, who said it had touches of Lincoln.

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