Friday, March 14, 2008

Much ado about Jeremiah Wright

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There is much ado at the moment over some imflammatory comments made by "Obama's Pastor," Jeremiah Wright. In brief, Wright has said that the U.S. government gives drugs to and builds prisons for blacks, that blacks should sing "God Damn America," not "God Bless America," and that it was America's own terrorism that brought on the attacks of 9/11.

Now, to be fair, some of what Wright said is fair game. Like it or not -- and the truth hurts -- the U.S. did drop atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands, and the U.S. has supported some rather nasty regimes throughout its history, notably during the Cold War years but also during the present so-called war on terror. Is there a connection between America's foreign policy and what happened on 9/11? Yes. Osama bin Laden himself has said so quite clearly again and again. Does that excuse what heppened on 9/11? Of course not.

But let's leave all that aside for now. I'd like to make a few comments as this story relates to the current presidential race:

1) Obama has been quite close to Wright. Obama has referred to him as "an old uncle". Wright married Obama and his wife. He also baptized their two daughters. Conservatives like Roger Simon are saying that Obama has some explaining to do, and, to be fair, I do think Obama needs to respond more forcefully than he has to some of Wright's comments, not least because, with this, Wright has become both a campaign issue and a media sensation. And yet, he has already distanced himself from Wright. "The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification," he has said. "It sounds like he was trying to be provocative." A bit too provocative, no doubt. Obama's opponents are trying to connect him more closely to Wright -- guilt by association and all that -- but Obama has been clear in his condemnation of his pastor's inflammatory comments.

Steve Benen: "I suppose the reflexive response would be to argue that if John McCain's embrace of John Hagee and Rod Parsley are offensive, then Obama's connection to Wright is just as bad. Perhaps, but there is a key difference -- Obama has denounced Wright's more extreme statements and made clear he 'deeply disagrees' with the offensive remarks. McCain prefers to pretend that Hagee's and Parsley's extremism is innocuous and barely worth commenting on."

Which brings me to:

2) While there has been much ado over the Obama-Wright connection, just as there was much ado over the supposed Obama-Farrakhan connection, there was almost no ado over the much closer and much more noxious McCain-Hagee connection. While Obama has rejected and denounced Farrakhan -- remember Clinton's desperate pushing of that point? -- and has similarly come out firmly against Wright, McCain has accepted Hagee's embrace without the media bothering to call him on it. While McCain gets away with cozying up to an equal opportunity bigot (anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim, etc.), Obama finds himself the target of yet another smear campaign, one his opponents are more than happy to feed and the media are more than happy to report with glee.

3) Meanwhile, speaking of smear campaigns, a new poll shows that 13 percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. Not that there's anything wrong with being a Muslim, of course, even if some on the right think there is (Muslim = terrorist), but this is a direct result, I think, of the appeal to "casual prejudice" that is a key component of the Republican attack machine, as well as of the Clinton campaign (if to a less malignant degree). Now, the implication will be that Obama is either a Muslim or a member of an anti-American, quasi-Christian church. Either way, the smearing will continue.

4) Obama is being forced to address not just his faith but the practice of his faith, forced to answer questions about his church and his pastor. But what about McCain? Again, the media have shown little to no interest in exploring and exposing the Hagee connection, or in addression McCain's religious views generally. And what about Clinton?

Yes, as we begin a new paragraph, what about her? Let me quote again from a Mother Jones article on which I posted early last month: "Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection."

As I put it then: It would be good to know what Clinton's views are with respect to this "spiritual war," would it not? Surely there are other faith groups she could have joined. Why this one? Was it all an act of triangulation, an effort to reach out to conservatives -- and in particular to her conservative colleagues in the Senate? Or does she actually believe in the Fellowship and its goals, in bringing Jesus, the christianist Jesus, into public life, into her public life, into whatever office she holds? If so, what specifically does she believe? Or is she somehow being duped, an victim of the christianist strategy of "cobelligerency," whereby "conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them," pulling them to the right and turning them into allies, witting or otherwise, of their noxious agenda? More urgently, what would any of this mean if she were elected to the White House in November? Are we confident we know the real Hillary Clinton? Would she work to guide the country in a more progressive direction, or would she be, in essence, the Fellowship's liberal in the Oval Office, a friendly liberal willing and eager to do some christianist bidding?

Valid questions, no? And yet the media aren't exploring and exposing this either. It is Obama who is forced to distance himself form the likes of Farrakhan and Wright, while few if any questions are asked about McCain and Hagee or Clinton and Santorum and Brownback and their secret little christianist group on Capitol Hill.

Yes, Obama may need to say more about Wright, but there is clearly a disturbing imbalance here.

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  • While this in no way changes my view that Obama could win in November and Hillary can't, this business is the first to give me pause. It's good that it's coming out now, but I can already see the GOP 527s working up their ads to shove down our throats in the General Election. While McCain has similar problems with some endorsements he's accepted, he's also made it clear (by design or accident) that most of these nuts are not longtime supporters. Obama's relationship with Wright can't be easily denied. He married him and Michelle, baptized their daughters and said these crazy things while Obama was presumably in attendance. His relationship was so close that Wright is where he got the title for The Audacity of Hope. Since many of these comments came out prior to his Senate run, I'm surprised they didn't dent him much even with the novelty candidacy of Alan Keyes as an opponent. This is really Obama's most challenging thing right now. He has to figure out a way to reject Wright or to rehabilitate him somehow, because anything will be perceived as a political necessity, which it is. As bad as Ferraro's comments were, Wright's are even worse. I hope he finds a way to navigate this issue and quickly.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 1:55 PM  

  • well america you are some piece of work, how quiclkly the american public is dumb played by a lack of knowledge simply becaues you don't read and know your history. If we spent half the time findnig out about our own country maybe when someone tells the truth it would not sound anit american but pro world, we are not the only people living on the planet and yet think we are the most important because of the free market and capitalism. Everything in this country is about money if you don't believe it go outside this country for the real news. This country has a lot to account for slavery, wars, terrorism of our own and the super elite rich getting richer and doing away with it's undesiribles. people of color!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 PM  

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