“Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words. Just speeches. It’s true that speeches don’t solve all problems, but what is also true is that if we can’t inspire the country to believe again, then it doesn’t matter how many plans and policies we have.”
You remember that speech? Hillary Clinton had been charging that Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, was great at offering voters words, but not substance. And Barack Obama responded by reeling off all these great words that had had such a powerful impact upon America and following up with each by asking, “Just words?”
Well, within a short time, it was revealed that they were actually the words of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. And there was that whole deal with Hillary Clinton saying, “If your whole candidacy is about words, then they should be your own words.”
Well, of course it WAS plagerism. Turn in a term paper that someone else had previously presented, which interacts with other writers to make a particular point with a particular refrain, and see what they think about it.
But let’s get beyond whose words it was. It was a great speech. That “Just words” part just rocked.
So it seems only fitting to use that refrain again with some more recent words surrounding the Obama campaign, words that are far more relevant to Barack Obama than the many noble phrases he quoted from great men of earlier times.
Let me play the “just words” game for a little bit.
When Barack Obama’s pastor for some 23 years said:
“It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere … That’s the world! On which hope sits.”
When Jeremiah Wright said:
“The government gives them [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”
When Wright said of the United States:
“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
“We’ve got more black men in prison than there are in college,” he said. “Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. No black man will ever be considered for president, no matter how hard you run Jesse [Jackson] and no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body.”
When the Rev. Wright said:
“America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. … We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers. … We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi. … We put (Nelson) Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.”
Yep. Just words.
When Wright shouted out to his cheering congregation:
“We started the AIDS virus. … We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty.”
“The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.”
And, of course, when Wright said:
“We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anybody who spoke out against it as being anti-Semitic. … We care nothing about human life if the end justifies the means. …”
Those were just words.
This past weekend, when Father Michael Pfleger – a longtime friend and spiritual mentor of Barack Obama, said from the pulpit of Obama’s church:
When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don’t believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought, ‘this is mine. I’m Bill’s wife. I’m white, and this is mine. I just gotta get up and step into the plate.’
Then out of nowhere, ‘I’m Barack Obama!’
Imitating Hillary’s response, screaming at the top of his lungs again, he continues, ‘Ah, damn! Where did you come from? I’m white! I’m entitled! There’s a black man stealing my show!’
She wasn’t the only one crying, there was a whole lot of white people crying!
When Father Pfleger said:
“Honestly now, to address the one who says, ‘Don’t hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.’ But you have enjoyed the benefits of what your ancestors did … and unless you are ready to give up the benefits, throw away your 401 fund, throw away your trust fund, throw away all the monies you put away into the company you walked into because your daddy and grand daddy. …”
Shouting, Pfleger continued, “Unless you are willing to give up the benefits then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation, because you are the beneficiaries of this insurance policy.”
Just words (well, unless you mind having everything you own taken away from you and given to someone else to make up for “historic injustices”).
And when Obama’s good friend Father Pfleger said:
“Racism is still America’s greatest addiction. I also believe that America is also the greatest sin against God.”
Now, when Barack Obama opined to a wine-sipping, cheese nibbling crowd in San Franscisco:
You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
When Obama said:
“I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown 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 her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
And when he said:
“The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity — she doesn’t,” he said. “But she is a typical white person who, you know, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, there is a reaction. That has been bred into our experiences that don’t go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way.”
When Obama told the story:
I had an uncle who was one of the — who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps. And the story in our family was that when he came home, he just went up into the attic and he didn’t leave the house for six months.
Just words. Especially when considering that Barack Obama didn’t actually have any uncles, or that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. What’s are the discrepancies of a bogus family connection, a horrible confusion of history, 500 miles of geography, and the difference of about a million murdered Jews among friends?
And when Obama recently said:
“It is wonderful to be back in Oregon,” Obama said. “Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii, I was not allowed to go to even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it.”
Just words, of course. Everyone knows that it’s only John McCain’s gaffes that should count.
So there you have it. Words are powerful, transformational things, or else they are completely trivial and irrelevant. It all depends on how Barack Obama feels about them.