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    March 18, 2008

    Obama's Wright Stuff (III)

    Posted by: Chris

    Barack Obama's speech today in Philadelphia on the race-related controversy raised his pastor's remarks was, in the grand scheme of things, both brilliant and uplifting. He spoke about the racial anxieties of not just black Americans but whites and Latinos as well, and he recognized in a very rare way in politics that real grievances run in all directions.

    Here's a video of the speech, in case you missed it:

    In some ways the furor over the incendiary sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright played right to Obama's strengths -- a controversy he could address with a powerful speech, expertly delivered. Certainly anyone with an open mind who heard Obama speak so forcefully about his love for country and faith will accept that no part of Obama agrees with his pastor's outrageous statements.

    For the immediate future, however, Obama did not do all that he could have to relieve legitimate doubts raised by the controversy. He has certainly used all the right words to condemn Reverend Wright's race-baiting and anti-Americanism in a way that will satisfy almost everyone. This primary season is already too consumed with Hillary's game of rejecting vs denouncing, etc., and it's downright ridiculous to see conservative pundits joining in now, since they generally abhor such silly semantics when practiced by the P.C. left.

    Still, Obama would have dealt with his political problems more effectively if he responded to the utterances with specificity. He mentioned several in passing, including Wright's attempt to cast Israel as solely responsible for Middle East violence. But it would be reassuring, for example, to hear Obama directly refute Wright's exploitation of the urban myth that the U.S. government somehow infected African Americans with AIDS. That sort of ludicrous paranoia doesn't just sow distrust toward the government and white people, but is at a more fundamental level an attempt to deny the very existence of black gay and bisexual men. (President Ahmadinejad, anyone?)

    But as a journalist I know that the key to settling a controversy is to give satisfactory answers to the lingering questions, the way Obama tried to with his three hours of meeting with Chicago journalists over the Mike Rezco matter. Yet on Wright, at least today, Obama may have succeeded in raising as many "nagging questions," as he called them, as he did settling others.

    When it comes to specifics, Obama said:

    Did I know [Reverend Wright] to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely ā€“ just as Iā€™m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. 

    It was a mistake to be so stingy with details, when the media will not let up until he is more forthcoming. What type of controversial statements did Obama here? On what topics? How frequently? Did he hear about other controversial statements from other parishioners? On what topics? How frequently? Did he ever raise with Wright directly his objections to any of these remarks? Did he and Michelle Obama consider leaving the congregation? You get the idea.

    At the same time I recognize the political reality that Obama needs to answer these additional questions, I would also like to channel Hillary Clinton just long enough to complain that this whole line of questioning is being unfairly applied in practice.

    As I've noted before, there is a real double standard in how the story has been covered. The second place candidate in the just-concluded Republican primaries was not just  candidate with a pastor but a pastor himself -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And yet Huckabee has refused help to release tapes or written copies of his own sermons. And what about Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith is so poorly understood -- were we entitled to hear tapes of all the sermons from his church?

    The videotapes of Wright's sermons made this an irresistible controversy, but the media should at the very least ask conservatives using Wright to tar Obama whether the sermons by Huckabee and by Romney's pastor are similarly fair game.



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    1. Bob on Mar 18, 2008 5:29:29 PM:

      Should Huckabee's sermons be fair game? Sure. But then Huckabee isn't the presumptive Republican nominee and the Obama camp has made clear he should be the Democratic nominee. The questions to Obama on Wright are legitimate and opinions on these statements should be asked of all the potential candidates, not just Obama. Blatant anti-American words (in a campaign where words matter) are not going to play well, as they say, in Peoria. Obama is now damaged goods.

    1. Andoni on Mar 18, 2008 10:32:53 PM:

      They are all damaged goods. Just today McCain (the supposed national security expert) repeated 3 times that Iran was training Al Qaeda and shipping them back to Iraq. Joe Lieberman was so embarrassed at this misstatement that he tapped McCain on the shoulder to correct him. McCain had to correct himself.

      The question is which imperfect being do you want leading the country.

    1. BB on Mar 19, 2008 2:03:35 AM:

      Obama's minister said controversial things. NOT Obama. My mother, until her death, called black people, "niggers". Did I? NEVER. Did I try to explain to her that was a UGLY word that should not be used? YES But, she was a product of how things were, in her youth, in the racist, "nigger" lynching South of the past. Obama's minister is, in his mind, marching in Selma, with Martin. Some catch up slowly. Some, as in the case of my mother, not at all. THIS exists. FEW talk of it. Especially Politicians. Obama summarized racism in America, so succinctly, and the BAGGAGE from the past still being dragged along by many, knowingly and unknowingly, thus negatively influencing the present.

      When you are President, things don't go according to plan. Things happen, and you must face them, head on. Obama showed what a GREAT President he would be. Not since Kennedy's "ask not" speech has such grand, intelligent and thoughtful speech been given by a Political figure. A speech that can bring about such understanding and change if people THINK about what he said. Imagine, a Presidential candidate giving the people something profound to actually think about. Politicians usually give their sound bites, and then run and hide. Racism began raising it's ugly head (with help from the Hillary camp, and to her glee) and Obama stepped forward, as a President should, and addressed the issue at hand, head on, no matter how uncomfortable it might have been for him. I'm proud of him. I admire him.


    1. Andoni on Mar 19, 2008 7:38:52 AM:

      Yes, I agree with Barry 100% on how this shows what leadership is. Compare Obama's actions to a crisis to the current occupant of the White House and how he is addressing the financial meltdown that has been smoldering for 2 years, and and now leaping over fire walls for past 4 months. I feel sadness for the present and hope for the future.

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