- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

I do not care for demographic labels. But if one applies to me, then I am a Hispanic-American. I much more prefer to be labeled a human being, to be defined by my humanity and existence than by my ethnicity, gender, race or skin color. But our world is not a perfect one, and I guess that such categorization is just a necessary evil.

I immigrated to the United States at the age of 9. Our family came to the land of milk and honey with two suitcases, a few dollars and a handful of English expressions. But we came with hope and great expectations. And, I gladly confess that this country has been everything that my parents and I ever hoped it would be. Along our journey, American men and women of every ethnicity, race, color and creed sacrificed for and contributed to our success.

Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on race this week was a poignant reminder of the greatness of our country, the greatness of its ideals, the virtue of its people, and our promising future. I must be forthright — I am not a supporter of Mr. Obama. I have voted Republican ever since becoming a naturalized citizen in the early 1990s. But Mr. Obama’s speech was moving because it touched on the reality of the human experience, one full of expectations, hopes, dreams, suffering, anger, love and forgiveness.

The human experience is a complicated one that often resists the modern drive toward categorization. As Mr. Obama reminded us, we homo sapiens are full of contradictions- lofty ideals and sometimes bawdry realities. Our public life is full of tabloid examples of great public figures who succumbed to the basest of temptations. We are constantly reminded of the worst of human experience. Whether it is in popular culture, the media, or academia, some appear to gloat and profit from a continual portrayal of human weakness. And lately, the United States, in my opinion truly the greatest country in the world, has fallen prey to this entrenched cynicism.

Mr. Obama’s speech was a powerful antidote to this culture of pessimism. Therein, he called attention to the lofty ideals enshrined in our nation’s founding documents, and he reminded us of the terrible realities of our treatment of racial differences and the disheartening consequences that these have bred. But Mr. Obama did not forget our ideals or our potential to rise up and realize them. Whether or not one is a Democrat or a Republican, there is something deeply human and redemptive about committing yourself to true ideals and rising to meet them. This has been the unifying call of the world’s greatest thinkers — a candid admission of our fallen world and a hope and expectation that we can rise, pursue and realize the good.

This has not been the mantra of the politician. In reality, it has been the mantra of the wisdom seeker.

In the face of persecution and even death, some of the greatest personages in history fought contradictions in the pursuit of truth, beauty, reconciliation and love. Most recently think of Susan B. Anthony, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi. And think of countless others who carry out daily labors of love amid painful contradictions and yet receive no public recognition.

Mr. Obama’s speech was a timely reminder that our politics do not have to be held enslaved to our very real anger, hurt, resentment, disenchantment and other contradictions. We indeed can forgive. We can accept the hurt and pain yet forgive and move forward without self-victimization. As Virgil reminds us, “Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus amori — love conquers all; let us too surrender to love.” We can indeed conquer all with love. Such politics are unheard of now days. They require sacrifice and surrender, the pursuit of good for the sake of others.

These are high ideals, the kind of which have always shaken the world and brought about true and lasting change. And these are ideals that indeed matter and cannot be relegated to the dustbin of cynicism or political practice.

I am grateful to Mr. Obama for reminding us that politics can indeed be truly human and truly on behalf of our neighbor. These are the types of politics that all of us can support. These are the types of politics that truly conquer all.

Gerson Moreno-Riano is chair of Regent University’s Department of Government.