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    February 28, 2008

    The politics of rejection

    Posted by: Chris

    Farrakhan Mcclurkin In the Cleveland debate earlier this week, Tim Russert pressed Barack Obama on whether he would reject the endorsement he recently received from Louis Farrakhan, who is of course famous for his anti-Semitic fulminations.

    Obama tried simply denouncing the Nation of Islam founder for his anti-Semitism, but that didn't satisfy either Russert or Hillary Clinton. For her part, Clinton related how she actively "rejected" support from a New York political party controlled by anti-Semites and demanded Obama do the same. Obama ultimately caved to the impossible politics of the moment:

    I have to say I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word "reject" Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word "denounce," then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

    "Good. Good. Excellent," nodded Clinton.

    Of course there is a difference between denouncing a view espoused by a supporter and rejecting all support from that source. Remember this is the same Barack Obama who refused to reject the support of Donnie McClurkin, a black gospel singer who claims to have been "cured" of his homosexuality? Back then, Obama saw the practical impossibility of combing the views of his supporters for those he finds objectionable:

    One of the things that always comes up in presidential campaigns is, if you’ve got multiple supporters all over the place, should the candidate then be held responsible for the every single view of every one of his supporters? And obviously that’s not possible. And if I start playing that game, then it will be very difficult for me to do what I think I can do best, which is bring the country together.

    That struck me as exactly right. Once a candidate starts "playing that game," then there's a slippery slope about which views among which supporters are so beyond the pale that denouncing the views isn't enough, and the supporter has to be "rejected."

    But now Barack Obama is "playing that game," goaded or not, and the slippery slope between Farrakhan and McClurkin begs for some sort of explanation.

    The same questions could be asked of Hillary Clinton, of course, who pushed Obama into not just "denouncing" but "rejecting" Farrakhan. Why, then, did Clinton accept the endorsements of African-American ministers like Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Ralph Mayberry, who like McClurkin preach that homosexuality can be "cured"? And yet unlike Obama, Hillary has never "denounced" their anti-gay rhetoric or "rejected" their support.

    Just last week, Hillary gave an interview to CBN News, the "news department" of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, even though Robertson has a long history of being virulently anti-gay, even blaming gay Americans for hurricanes in central Florida and the 9/11 attack. Does anyone doubt how the Clinton camp would have reacted if Obama had sat down for a chat with Farrakhan's Final Call newspaper?

    Then today, when Clinton learned that prominent Dallas Hispanic supporter Adelfa Callejo had said some very intemperate things about why Hispanics won't support black politicians like Obama, Clinton's initial response sounded very much like Obama talking about McClurkin:

    You know this is a free country. People get to express their opinions. … You can’t take any of that as anything other than an individual opinion.

    Later, after confirming Callejo's remarks, the Clinton campaign issued a statement saying, "After confirming that they were accurately portrayed, Senator Clinton, of course, denounces and rejects them." Notice that, like Obama on Farrakhan before Hillary pushed him, Clinton has denounced and rejected the views she finds repugnant, not the endorsement or support from Callejo.

    John McCain has his own denouncing and rejecting to do, according to Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo. The presumptive GOP nominee appeared on stage yesterday with Christian Zionist Pastor John Hagee, who Kleefeld said "considers the Catholic Church to be the Anti-Christ, and has said that Jews brought their own persecution upon themselves."

    And last year, McCain famously gave the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the same Falwell who joined Robertson in blaming 9/11 on gays. Liberty also treats students in gay relationships the way Bob Jones University treats interracial couples, expelling all involved. And unlike Obama (with McClurkin and Farrakhan) or Clinton (with Callejo), McCain hasn't done anything to distance himself from Hagee, Falwell or Liberty.

    My point here is that this particular "political game" will ultimately sting anyone running a nationwide campaign, and Obama was right the first time that politics really ought to be about addition, not subtraction. It's ultimately pointless to pressure presidential candidates into "rejecting the support" of even their most extremist supporters. So long as the candidate denounces the offensive views, in clear and uncertain terms, then ultimately it's up to the supporter to decide whether to stick with the candidate.

    Personally, I am tickled pink that unreconstructed types like Donnie McClurkin or Eddie Long are supporting presidential candidates like Obama and Clinton who are committed to a wide array of gay civil rights protections. I hope they do all they can to get them elected!

    So long as the candidate doesn't waver from denouncing their bigotry, that ought to be enough.

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    Comments

    1. Greg on Feb 29, 2008 10:18:57 AM:

      Sometimes leadership is about subtraction. There are just some people whose views and actions are so unacceptable and so morally wrong that they must be rejected, and, as the course of history has taught us, sometimes worse. As a Chicagoan and close watcher of Minister Farrakhan I am all too familiar with his extraordinary biggotry (think David Duke or Fred Phelps), and I would be one to say, if he ever said he supported me, "well I don't support you and want nothing to do with you until you either recant your vile words and/or cease your hateful actions." End of discussion. Because with people like Farrakhan, no other discussion can be had.

    1. kiki on Feb 29, 2008 8:27:09 PM:

      Thank you for your very wise comments. Nuanced and sensible is a rarity these days and you aced it.
      Denouncing and Rejecting for too long has been consigned to Blacks denouncing Blacks and I will be glad when that piece of plantation mentality dies a bitter tragic death.


      Obama/ Webb 08

    1. kiki on Feb 29, 2008 8:28:08 PM:

      Thank you for your very wise comments. Nuanced and sensible is a rarity these days and you aced it.
      Denouncing and Rejecting for too long has been consigned to Blacks denouncing Blacks and I will be glad when that piece of plantation mentality dies a bitter tragic death.


      Obama/ Webb 08

    1. Andrew Clark on Feb 29, 2008 8:57:16 PM:

      A key way to fundamentally change attitudes over generations is to SUBTRACT bigotry, sexism and racism from the norm of acceptable public discourse. Obama's thesis is disingenuous as it masks the hypocrisy he shares with most other politicians whose very stock-in-trade is convenient accommodation as it suits their needs. Obama's tour with bigot McClurkin just happened to conveniently come when he was courting the conservative African American vote in the South which had previously been a solid constituency for Clinton. Then came the "Committed Christian" and "Called to Christ" brochure courting evangelicals. Now that we are into Texas where Austin has a disproportionate influence on the statewide results and it's time to court "the Gays." Coincidence? Remember, this is the guy who crowed about getting tested for HIV in Kenya to "remove the stigma" but then when back in the U.S. said "I don't want any confusion here about what's going on, I was tested with my wife, in public." What confusion might that be, Senator? Reject the politics of doublespeak.

    1. alex on Mar 1, 2008 11:26:17 AM:

      This is an excellent post. I think Obama slipped a McClurkin-response into his answer, actually, when explained that there was no particular offer of support to reject. In other words, the question, "do you reject support?" is often non-sensical, making it a tough one for an intelligent person to answer. The "reject and denounce" thing could be seen as a clever solution, by the way, since he's undermining the meaning of either "denounce" or "reject" by intentionally conflating the two. You could see it as making "denounce" mean "reject," which would the regrettable outcome you describe, but you could also see it as making "reject" mean "denounce." In the latter case, the opposition hears the word it wants to hear but the word has been rendered semantically empty, so everyone wins.

    1. Jack Jett on Mar 3, 2008 5:34:13 PM:

      Very important post. I thought the question was legitimate and Obama tried to brush if off. He couldn't. When he gets the nomination, he is not going to be able to brush off half the shit he has so far.

      His vetting will begin by the end of the week.

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