Is Obama's Election the End of Identity Politics?

The great spiritual, moral and social challenge of post-election America is to find some way to reconcile the contradictions of a country where in the same week Barack Obama was elected and Marcelo Lucero was murdered. Marcelo was killed in a town not so far from my hometown, by a gang of violent teens. His murder was not provoked. It was a pure act of hate, and our extended community is still stunned by the intensity of the savage bigotry that lives next door.

Perhaps reconciling the two Americas is no more difficult than reconciling the contradictions of other nations. How could one nation produce both Mozart and Hitler, Tolstoy and Stalin, Michelangelo and Mussolini or Lao Tzu and Mao? Every country reveals and bears its own contradictions; no country is populated only by saints.

We must decide whether the good in America is more true, or more potent than America's evil. Marcelo's death was true, and Barack Obama's election was true. If we focus on Marcelo, we will drift into despair and cynicism about the possibilities for a racially healed America. If we take Barack Obama's election as the more important, more dominant, more decisive and more reflective truth, we have a chance to believe in the better angels of our nature, and this belief will lead us to a national unity that has eluded us. The murder and the election are both true. Let us save the phrase "See, I told you so" for the best and not the worst in our land.

Another spiritual lesson of the election is that it might finally be able to end identity politics. When Joe Lieberman ran with Al Gore, I wrote that the greatest legacy of a Jewish man being put on the ticket would be this: Jews could vote against Joe or some other Jewish candidate even though he is Jewish. Even those who voted against Obama were generally willing to concede that he did not run as a black man. He ran as an American who happened to be a person of color. Every candidate who follows him will be able to run as an American first, not as a woman or a person of color or a Mormon. I think Mitt Romney also deserves credit for running in the primaries in a way that neither denied nor touted his faith.

It is hard for a Jew like me to argue for the support of Israel; all too often, my arguments are debased and discredited as a knee-jerk reaction. Support for Israel is not special pleading by the Jews of America, but an argument by Americans who happen to be Jewish that the support for the state of Israel is necessary for the preservation both of American security and American values. Similarly, when an evangelical Christian or a Roman Catholic argues for the protection of the rights of the unborn, we do not need to reduce their pleading to an article of faith and then reject it as an intrusion of church law into civil law. There are good, rational reasons to protect unborn babies, and those reasons can come from Americans of all faiths or no faith at all. I hope the election of Barack Obama allows us to look behind the ugly masks of identity politics to the real American interests that bind us. I hope his election will enable us to truly hear the arguments we offer to the great moral issues of our time and let go of the insulting degradation of those arguments as doctrines of another faith or another people.

When the slaves left Egypt, the Bible (Exodus 12: 37-38) calls them in Hebrew, an "erev rav" which means a mixed multitude. Barack Obama and Marcelo Lucero are both a part of the mixed multitude that is America. My deepest hope and prayer is that we can find each other and hear each other as equal participants in our great but uncompleted exodus to a land of freedom that I believe is this land.

A legend from my teachers, the rabbis: why did God only make one person, Adam, at first? The reason is to teach us that in the time to come no one should be able to say, "My ancestor was greater than your ancestor."

May God bless Barack Obama.

May God receive the soul of Marcelo Lucero.

May God bless America and all the children of Adam.

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