Obama and Violence

Soon after mourning the slain students at Virginia Tech, Barack Obama made a really interesting point that is being sorely misunderstood. It is a startlingly profound point, all the more so to hear it coming from a politician.

I came upon his speech via Chris Reed’s “imbecilic” take on the matter, in which he quotes from the misnamed “Reason” magazine’s Radley Balko:

Ugh. Words aren’t violence.

The outsourcing line was even worse. No one has the “right” to be paid by someone else for their labor. Employment in a free market is peaceful and voluntary, on both sides.

Radley clearly doesn’t understand what violence is. Words can damage people. As can losing one’s job. This isn’t about rights, its about acknowledging that when someone loses their means of making ends meet, it hurts. Let’s take a look at what Chris Reed left out of his blog post, at the quote from Obama’s speech that ties it all together with an impressively deep insight. From Ben Smith blog at the Politico:

And so, Obama says, “there’s a lot of different forms of violence in our society, and so much of it is rooted in our incapacity to recognize ourselves in each other.”

Obama is referring to an ethos that grows from recognizing our fundamental unity. Our shared humanity. In the worst of the violence we face as a society, right down to the least of it, there is a common thread. In the expression of violence and in the seeds that give rise to it, there is a driving factor: Dehumanization. Our ability to separate ourselves from others to a sometimes radical degree. This isn’t about that age old liberal conservative divide over social rights vs individual freedoms, as Radley over at Reason seems to think. It is about taking voluntary steps to find and heal the roots of violence. To understand that regardless of law, when we hurt each other we create a perpetuating cycle. One of the things the killers in these school shootings have in common is pain and suffering. This is not to excuse them in any way. It is to recognize that by finding and healing that suffering before it explodes, we can prevent violence. It is to understand that we need to care what happens to people when their voice doesn’t count, when they lose their job, or when their aspirations are demeaned by casual racism.

Ben Smith is right in that Obama does need to get specific. He in fact echoes Kos of DailyKos on Obama:

The strongest movement of the candidates, his campaign’s impressive growth continues unabated. However, with increased success comes increased scrutiny as people are starting to take a look at his positions on issues like Iraq and health care more closely. He’s been able to avoid specifics for now, and he can probably get away with it for a little bit longer, but soon he’ll have to add some substance to his candidacy.

That being said, he still misses the point of what Obama said:

Many politicians would avoid, I think, suggesting that outsourcing and mass-murder belong in the same category.

He isn’t.  He is describing varying kinds of violence, and the common root of the problem.

What I think we’d all like to see is, specifically, how he intends to solve it.

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