The Sun is 400 times larger than the moon. But when the moon aligns itself between us and the sun, it almost blocks all of sun's light and appears as if the two celestial bodies are of the same size. But of course, it appears this way because the moon is almost 400 times closer to us. As such, the media made a moon out of the Rev. Wright story that blocked our view of what really matters in this election, from an all-important five-year anniversary of the Iraq War - a war that should have never been waged - and a near recession economy that has had millions of people cutting back on food, medicine and clothes and losing their homes.
I think most people would agree that Rev. Wright's comments were not particularly flattering about America. As someone who loves the United States deeply, I, too, was frustrated to hear the way in which Rev. Wright talked about this country. But my frustration soon after the surfacing of those clips transformed to irritation toward many of Senator Obama's opponents as well as the media. For two weeks, they beat up on him to not only denounce and reject the comments- which he did immediately before getting any pressure - but to repudiate the man. Instead, Senator Obama gave a brilliant speech on the history and state of race relations in the United States to respond to those demands. I'm not going to repeat what so many journalists and bloggers on this site have eloquently said about the importance of Senator Obama's speech. But there are a few points that I think have not adequately been made, so I want to try to briefly make those points.
By not demonizing Rev. Wright, Senator Obama showed exactly the trait we need in our next president. We're living at a time when the world is rather divided. This division was already deep between the U.S. and a number of its adversaries, including Iran, where I was born and lived until 1999. To use this example, following September 11 and President Bush's poorly thought out policies in Iraq as well as the rise of figures like Ahmadinejad, dialogue has remained nonexistent. This lack of dialogue has not only made it harder for the United States to be effective in its efforts in Iraq, but it has also led Iran to feel more detached from any sense of international responsibility to respect human rights or cooperate more on international issues.
But what's most important to note here is that this continued period of no dialogue has led to the development of the kinds of perceptions in each country about the other that would not have developed had relations been maintained or normalized. When I was in elementary school in Iran, the United States was presented to me as "The Great Satan" and the root of all evil in the world. You can almost never see a government that has relations with the U.S. teach such level of anti-Americanism in its public schools. Shortly after I moved to the United States, American president labeled Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11 and strongly condemned the attacks shortly after, as "Axis of Evil." Again, this was something we wouldn't do to Saudi Arabia where 19 of the 20 highjackers came from, simply because dialogue between the two countries has led to some level of balance in behavior. Having had the rare opportunity of living in both Iran and the United States for extended periods of time, I don't think either country is either evil or right on everything.
In this context, there are a number of things that one needs to understand. Both Senators Clinton and Obama have expressed interest in increasing the level of dialogue with adversaries, although Obama seems to be more serious about it and has expressed willingness to meet with Ahmadinejad. But one thing is for certain, and that is, just like Obama will have some tough words for Ahmadinejad and his policies, Ahmadinejad, too, will likely have very harsh criticisms of some American policies. So here is a question for those who think Obama should have repudiated Rev. Wright and not just his words: how should Obama act when Iran criticizes American policies?
What we have to understand is that if we want to repair the damage that has been done to our image in the world, we have to elect someone who is capable of sitting through a meeting where the United States is a subject of criticism and still has the willingness to listen rather than walk out the room. When you condemn and walk out the room, nothing changes. And when we don't talk, nothing changes. We retreat to our respective corners and political differences are sustained. If we aren't just saying we want to rebuild the bridges to our allies and take a different course just because they sound good, we need to elect someone who is not going to condemn something or someone instead of trying to understand the roots of anger and tension. The people who wanted Obama to get up and walk out of the church the moment he heard something that was mildly critical of the United States are living in a fairytale if they think we can restore our standing in the world with that kind of self-righteous attitude. We have had a president who name calls, walks out and doesn't listen for eight years. It's time to have a president who listens, and not just to those who agree with him, but to those who disagree.
Yes, Rev. Wright's comments were hurtful. But the reason why African-Americans aren't nearly as shocked as whites are about those comments is that there has been little dialogue about race-related issues that we have never worked through. In that context, isn't what we need a president who embodies both groups and is in the unique position to tell both sides what they need to hear rather than shunning one side against another? Isn't this the very test for someone's ability to bring us together to engage in dialogue about issues we have differences in instead of alienating the minority for the sake of a majority that may not always be initially willing to listen? We need to have a president who refuses to listen to those who ask him to condemn a statement just so they don't have to think.
My second point has to do with the whole issue of Pastor Wright. The story is like the moon during an eclipse. So what I want to ask those of you who have been overwhelmed with this single story to close your eyes, take a deep breath and think about why we're going through this process. Here is the light we haven't seen for the past few weeks: For the past eight years, we have had a president who has divided this country, took us into a far on false pretenses, burnt the bridges to many of our old allies, given tax cuts to the wealthy people and corporations, pursued an economic policy that has led to the loss of thousands of jobs and the worst economic recession in decades, failed to provide emergency response to natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, presided over a political justice system and condoned torture in violation to our obligations to the Geneva Convention, just to name a few.
In such circumstances, we cannot afford to get distracted from what really matters when it comes to selecting a president: who is most likely to protect our interests in the White House? Who is most likely to rise to the occasion at a time when the country is divided and call on us to do something for our country? Who is the most trustworthy? Who has run a campaign that has been the most ethical, dignified and disciplined, and what does that say about the kind of president they'll be? Who has spent a lifetime bringing people together to cause change? Who has excited and brought out an entire generation of voters in record numbers by convincing them that as they begin to build their lives, the government is on their side? And perhaps most important of all, who is going to ask us to think?
We cannot allow Blitzer, Matthews, Cooper and YouTube users with too much time in their hands keep us in the dark and decide what our priorities are in this election and what factors should matter to us. Remember why we have elections and what ultimately will matter to you and me and our children and grandchildren. Don't let a two-minute clip cloud your judgment when the stakes are so high. This election is too important.