"From a black church in DC to a Martha Coakley rally in Boston, Obama makes a fired-up populist pitch for his agenda
What strange forces conspired to schedule a crucial, down-to-the-wire Senate race that Democrats can't afford to lose, almost exactly a year to the day after Barack Obama's historic inauguration? For Obama supporters, there's no time to commemorate the glorious events of a year ago. All that joy and promise has turned to dread and doubt, as a defeat for Martha Coakley on Jan. 19 could block Obama's signature policy initiative, health care reform. If she loses, Obama wakes up Jan. 20 to endless news cycles declaring his presidency, having lost its 60-vote Senate majority, either impotent or doomed. What a difference a year makes.
Against that backdrop, it was fascinating to watch the president take time to preach Sunday morning (just hours before stumping for Coakley in Boston) at Vernon Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., the legendary black church that hosted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in December, 1956. I was surprised to see Obama lay out parallels between the struggles of King's movement, and his own.
Surprised, because almost a year after his inauguration, I've stopped seeing Obama's career as having much to do with a movement. That's not to deny that the election of our first black president was a huge civil right milestone, and owed an enormous debt to that movement's hard work and heroes. It was, and it did. But the Obama White House has mostly seemed to shed the "movement" trappings that elected him in 2008, to the chagrin of progressives of every race who saw his campaign as the highest expression of the social justice and civil rights movement, and who made his election the cause of their lifetimes.
On Sunday Obama seemed to be trying to get that movement mojo back, and reassure disillusioned liberals that change requires compromise as well as a long view of social progress -- and I found myself wondering, was it desperation? Manipulation? A rare glimpse inside the way Obama thinks about the arc of social justice, and his place in it? Maybe it doesn't matter: We all turn (back) to faith and the community in times of trouble, and Obama is in some trouble right now. It gave me a lot to think about.
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