As Sen. Barack Obama began to sew up enough delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, a new opponent began to appear on his horizon: the grievance reflex.
That's a quirky trait in us human beings that makes us keenly aware of any unfair edge that somebody has over us and that just as easily allows us to ignore any unearned advantage that we might happen to have over them.
You could see the grievance reflex busily at work during the final days of the Democratic nomination marathon.
For example, the primaries ended as they began, with apologies. Remember the days when Sen. Joe Biden, the former Democratic presidential hopeful from Delaware, found himself apologizing for what he thought was a compliment? He referred to Obama as "clean" and "articulate," terms quickly condemned as condescending by some of us hypersensitive black folks, among other critics.
That was child's play compared to Obama's recent resignation from his church, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, after YouTube picked up video of a guest minister, the Rev. Michael Pfleger. With his clownish mockery of Sen. Hillary Clinton, the white South Side priest reignited the firestorm of controversy that Trinity's retired pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, lit under Obama's campaign in March.
I confess. When I saw the video of the Rev. Michael Pfleger's mockery of Sen. Hillary Clinton, I laughed at first.
After all, in my mind, Clinton had it coming after her bold appeals in recent weeks to "hard-working white voters" in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. After all of the support that black voters gave her and her husband in the past, she seemed a bit too casual about throwing black voters under the bus. She sounded almost as if she was personally offended by black disloyalty.
But my chuckle was a guilty pleasure. Like devouring a pint of butter pecan ice cream, it's fun until afterwards when you think about what you've done.
Father Pfleger apologized to "anyone who was offended and who thought it to be mockery, that was neither my intent nor my heart." He should have apologized to everyone because everyone should be offended.
Pfleger is hardly the first commentator to observe that Clinton probably lost ground because she displayed too much of a sense of entitlement on the campaign trail. I've noted it, too. But, despite her gracelessness in citing her appeal to white working-class voters, an appeal that is confirmed by exit polls, I can't read what's in her heart. It is not fair to imply, even in jest, that she feels entitled by her skin color to be president, even if she sometimes sounded to some of our ears as though she did.
Besides, Father Pfleger was preaching in a church, not doing standup on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam" or BET's "Comic View," even if he appeared to be auditioning for both.
Now is the time for Pfleger, a long-time headline-making civil rights activist, to help the post-primary healing, not fan more flames of resentment.
A lot of healing needs to be done, judging by the divisions on display between the Clinton and Obama factions as the party's rules committee met to resolve Florida and Michigan's disputed delegates.
It was a cruel twist of fate, as former President Bill Clinton has noted, that the first presidential primary to feature a truly viable black candidate and a truly viable female candidate happened to be the same primary.
Dueling grievances were inevitable, especially in the party that goes to extra lengths to accommodate diversity and identity politics based on race and gender.
Now, with Obama poised to win the nomination, many women, in particular, are no less disappointed than many blacks would be if Obama appeared to have the nomination snatched away from him by some unfair surprise.
Father Pfleger's lampoon tapped into black frustration about white racism in a way that enflamed white anxieties about black anger. It also ignored the suspicions and resentments some Clinton supporters have that Obama may have an unfair advantage over Clinton simply because he's a man.
To heal those hurt feelings and others left in the wake of the long primary fight, Obama needs to show his willingness to fight unfairness wherever it may be. Bridging his own party's divides will be a tough task, but he's an appropriate man to take it on. After all, he's the change-agent candidate who rose rapidly to the front ranks of his party's hopefuls by running as a unifier.
If he can reunify his own party in this year of dueling discontents, he's ready to take on the rest of this country's grievances and the world!