March 15, 2008
Barack Obama's Wright stuff
Posted by: Chris
Color me disappointed. The message of unity and "new politics" championed by Barack Obama is one that has resonated deeply for me, after years of watching in frustration while bitter partisanship and Rovian wedge politics undermined the common ground our system depends upon.
But it's hard to square Obama's message and rhetoric with the incredibly incendiary racism and anti-Americanism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his pastor of 20 years. You've no doubt seen the videos of Wright exhorting his congregation to replace "God Bless America" with "God Damn America"; or when he rails in support of Obama over Hillary Clinton because he knows black America is held down by "rich white people" and she's never been called the "N-word."
In one sense, Wright is only the latest in what appears an unending stream of supporters of each of the three remaining presidential candidates with outrageous views that must be denounced, rejected, repudiated, whatever. It's a game Obama tried to avoid last fall but now is fully a part of. But Wright's relationship to the candidate is of a different order than John McCain's John Hagee, Clinton's Geraldine Ferraro or Obama's Louis Farrakhan and Donnie McClurkin.
The Trinity UCC pastor has played a much more central and formative role in Obama's personal development, even providing the inspiration for the candidate's signature "audacity of hope." Only it's hate, not hope, that Wright is preaching in the videos making the rounds in the media, the internet and (of course) the right-wing talk shows.
I've waited to hear how Obama would respond to the specific sermons that have come to light, and late yesterday he took some important steps in a blog post on HuffPo and an interview with Keith Olbermann to put Wright's outrageousness in context.
First and foremost, Obama forcefully and unconditionally condemned Wright's rhetoric, which couldn't have been easy on a personal level:
I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.
He also confirmed that he hadn't been at the church when those sermons were delivered and insisted they weren't characteristic of the pulpit message he absorbed for 20 years:
The sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn. The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation.
That's the crux of the matter for me. If in 30 years of preaching Rev. Wright got (very) carried away a few times that have been cherry-picked by the media or oppo research, that's one thing. But if Obama sat through versions of that hateful message on more than very rare occasions over two decades, then it risks undermining the credibility that lies at the heart of his unique appeal.
Late yesterday, Wright dropped off the Obama campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committe, certainly the right decision for all concerned. But it will take more reporting about their relationship and more openness from Obama to sort through the contours of this story. Whatever effect it might have on his candidacy, short or long term, this isn't a two-day story to be swept under the rug. And better to air it now than in October.
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