March 17, 2008

Transcending Race?

There's been only one story in the blogosphere for the last three days. Here's what some people are saying...

Rich Lowry

In the first sermon Barack Obama ever heard from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor railed against “white folks’ greed,” the bombing of Hiroshima and “the callousness of policymakers in the White House and in the statehouse.” For Obama, the experience was formative. The sermon’s title, “The Audacity of Hope,” became the title of Obama’s second book and the theme of his presidential campaign.

Now that videotapes have surfaced of Wright’s more scorching diatribes — arguing that America deserved 9/11, exclaiming “God damn America” for spreading drugs in the black community, and declaring the U.S. the “US-KKK-a” — Obama professes shock, even though he attended the church for nearly two decades and Wright was his spiritual mentor. Evidently, Obama wants us to believe they never talked about anything besides the Gospel and the weather.

Shelby Steele

...nothing could be more dangerous to Mr. Obama's political aspirations than the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday -- for 20 years -- in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church in which his own mother, not to mention other whites, could never feel comfortable. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a challenger who goes far past Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage ("God damn America").

How does one "transcend" race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?

What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity.

Ross Douthat:

Nobody in the national media was parsing the Reverend Wright's sermons before the 2008 campaign, and nobody would be parsing them today if he was just one minister among many supporting Barack Obama for President. I have no doubt that many, many Democratic politicians have put in an appearance at churches whose pastors share Wright's outlandish political views without anyone kicking up a fuss, just as Republican politicians have long accepted the support of figures like Falwell without taking too much heat about it. The distinction here, for the umpteenth time, is that Wright isn't just Obama's supporter; he's his pastor, his friend, and his spiritual mentor, which makes him exactly the kind of person whose views ought to be of interest to a public that's considering electing Barack Obama President of the United States.

Peter Wehner:

Senator Obama and some of his supporters have made the plea that he not be made “guilty by association.” What people are asking for is not guilt but responsibility by association — especially an association this long, this deep, this important.

And on the matter of “guilt by association,” here’s a thought experiment. Assume that the spiritual leader and pastor of the church George W. Bush or John McCain attended was, say, a white supremacist or an anti-gay bigot. Do you think that there would be any hesitancy among the press to push the “guilt by association” storyline? I rather doubt it.

I ask because on Thursday CNN’s Anderson Cooper and some of his commentators were visibly unhappy that they were forced to spend valuable time talking about the Wright issue rather than, say, health care or education policy. Anderson and the others clearly viewed it as distasteful and a distraction from a full airing of policy issues. (To Cooper’s credit, by Friday he had changed his tune and was making the case for why the story was relevant.)

5. We actually have an example of how the MSM plays the “guilt by association” card when it comes to certain political and religious figures. In the 2000 campaign George W. Bush spoke once at Bob Jones University; it was an event used to bludgeon Bush with for the rest of the campaign and into his presidency. And, of course, Bush did not attend Bob Jones University, financially support it, or consider Bob Jones to be his spiritual mentor or close friend for 25 years. Yet these things mattered not at all. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University — and so to many in the press, he was joined at the hip with it. The association between Reverend Wright and Senator Obama is far deeper in every respect.

Richard Cohen: is it possible that a man who has made judgment the centerpiece of his entire presidential campaign has shown so little of it in this matter?

One possible answer to these questions is that Obama has learned to rely on a sycophantic media that hears any criticism of him as either (1) racist, (2) vaguely racist or (3) doing the bidding of Hillary and Bill Clinton. You only have to turn your attention to the interview Obama granted MSNBC's fawning Keith Olbermann for an example. Obama was asked whether he had known that Wright had suggested substituting the phrase "God damn America" for "God bless America."

"You know, frankly, I didn't," Obama said. "I wasn't in church during the time when the statements were made."

But had you heard about them? Did your crack campaign staff alert you? And what about Wright's honoring Farrakhan? Had you heard about that? Did you feel any obligation to denounce those remarks -- not Farrakhan, as you had done, but Wright himself? Don't you consider yourself a public figure that others look to for leadership? Do you think you failed them here?

Olbermann asked none of those questions.

Joseph Loconte

What Obama does now to distance himself from Wright is less important than what he failed to do over the last 20 years. Why didn't Obama leave this church when he learned that its senior pastor was committed to ideas that are "contrary to my own life and beliefs"?

Perhaps because it would have cost him something. Ebony magazine named Wright one of America's 15 best black preachers. He moves in influential church and seminary circles. He openly uses his pulpit to endorse Obama's political ambitions--on the face of it, a violation of the church's tax-exempt status--and commands the allegiance of a large, well-heeled congregation. At each step along Obama's political path--his run for the Illinois house, the state senate, the U.S. Senate, and his presidential bid--he has counted on the support of Wright and Trinity United.

All of this suggests a weakness in Obama's character, a shrinking back from principled decisions if they seem too costly. When John McCain challenged his own party on causes that could sink his political career, Obama voted "present" to avoid taking a position on controversial bills in the Illinois senate. During his captivity in Vietnam, McCain refused to denounce the United States or to be released from prison until his fellow soldiers could join him. Obama couldn't find the moxy to stop attending the church of a minister who makes anti-Americanism an indispensable doctrine of his faith.

Michael Medved

Posted by dan at March 17, 2008 11:19 PM