31 December 2008: Obama must deliver on promise of hope

Obama must deliver on promise of hope

Hope is a good thing, and what a difference a successful election can do to reinvigorate one’s sense of it.

Just like electing Bill Ritter two years ago was a good thing for Colorado, so too has been the election of Barack Obama a good thing for America.

Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind both men are human and, therefore, fallible. In Ritter’s case, he was able to take his oath of office prior to his first major gaffe: the vetoing of the workers’ rights bill.

Not sworn in yet, Obama has already committed a major faux pas by inviting fundamentalist minister Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. While he might be considered a conservative version of Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelist whose focus is on the social gospel, Warren is a passionate homophobe.

He put his homophobia on public display in his tireless campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8 that, if confirmed by the state’s Supreme Court, will be a first in American history: a revocation of a class of peoples’ constitutional right, in this case the right to marry by gays and lesbians.

In a recent piece, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post defended Obama by arguing that Warren praying at his inauguration might actually get ostensibly Christian-minded folks to imitate Christ by demonstrating compassion for the poor.

Of course, that is like saying it would have been peachy if the Civil Rights Movement focused on feeding the hungry while ignoring the rights of African Americans to franchise and good schools.

Imagine if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had adopted former Bronco’s coach Lou Saban’s half-a-loaf philosophy: “We’ll be glad to sit in the back of the bus if you can help relieve malnutrition among our people.”

There is some merit to Dionne’s essential argument about Obama reaching out to all groups and classes. It is also true that there is little he can do about the gay marriage issue in California other than lip service. But by including Warren in his parade, Obama has managed to rain on the parade of a victimized population who look to him with hope.

Still, it is Obama who can lead us to a better place in terms of rights. Continuing on his model of Abraham Lincoln, he can courageously prompt Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act that says neither the federal government nor the states are obligated to honor gay civil unions or marriages.

In addition to advancing the cause of justice for gay and lesbian Americans, there is considerable work Obama needs to do in the broader field of human rights. Among them:

Labor laws need to be updated to create a level playing field in terms of workers’ right to organize. Over the past half century, the pendulum of power very much has swung to big businesses like Wal Mart that aggressively stomp on workers attempting to organize and fight for a livable wage.

The right to health care is just that: a right, as Obama correctly stated in a debate with John McCain. It’s not a commodity or a privilege. It’s time to eviscerate the HMO’s, which are no more than middlemen collection agencies that siphon off funds that could be used more effectively spent directly on doctors and treatment.

The right to privacy, despite the wailings of rightists who hold that government does have a right to access your bedroom, is paramount to a free state. It is what separates us from a police state, and it has taken quite a beating during the reign of George W. Bush.

Human rights across the globe need a Jimmy Carter approach. The U.S. recently found itself in league with some of the world’s more heinous regimes when it sided with them in the U.N. over a motion by European nations to call for all countries to honor the rights of their gay and lesbian citizens.

Genocide, rape, torture, political and cultural, must be stood up to, no matter where they happen. We need to make clear once again that even if a country does not have oil under its sand, that does not mean despotic rulers can terrorize their people while the “world’s greatest democracy” turns a blind eye.

Environmental justice, from global climate change to where we locate coal-powered and nuclear plants and store radioactive fission rods, must be advanced. Species protection, from Africa’s endangered gorillas to North American polar bears and wolves, more than ever needs to become a top priority, for it is only in our interconnectedness that we can collectively survive on this spaceship we call Earth.

Ours has been a history of advancement over grievous errors: slavery, genocide, internment camps, immigrant abuse, workers’ repression, and first-class citizenship for white, propertied, heterosexual males and second class for all the rest.

We have come far in our quest for that “more perfect union,” but there is much to be done. If 2009 becomes the year of human rights, it will be a much happier one.

So, anticipating that, permit me to wish each of you a very happy New Year.

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