Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Jive-Talk Express

Yesterday, Obama finally denounced his long-time pastor and spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright, saying that “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.”

Just last month he said “I could no more disown him than I could disown the black community.” Essentially he was saying that Jeremiah Wright was so deeply a part of who he was that he could not possibly disown him. So has Obama also disowned the black community? What about his "typical white person" grandmother? Just last month, Obama asked us not to dismiss Wright as a “crank or a demagogue” suggesting that Wright had a valid position worthy of consideration when he embraced theological statements such as:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer and we better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community. Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal.

That led me to go back to Wright’s speech to the Press Club on Monday to look for the shocking and appalling revelation which would lead to this sudden reversal from the presidential wannabe. Wright, flanked by his Nation of Islam bodyguards, repeated the same things he has been saying from the pulpit and printing in the bulletins week after week. The government created the AIDS virus to kill black people. Our soldiers are the moral equivalent of terrorists. Louis Farrakhan is one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century. These views have been the bread and butter of Wright’s preaching, and it does not pass a sanity test to say that Obama only discovered where his pastor and mentor stood on Monday.

There is nothing in Wright’s recent statements about his own views which is new or surprising to someone who has called Wright his pastor, mentor, friend, and sounding board for twenty years. In his much-heralded speech on March 18, Obama made a play on white guilt when he claimed that segregated churches were to blame for the nation's surprise and shock at what Rev. Wright was preaching. But now Obama pretends to be surprised at it. What is his excuse? Was he sitting in a white-only church for the past twenty years? It was nothing about AIDS or chickens or the US of KKK A or God Damn America or equating US Marines to al Qaeda which drove Obama away from Jeremiah Wright.

Then I found the real cause for Obama to denounce Wright.

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. I do what pastors do. Obama does what politicians do.

Obama didn’t suddenly discover what Jeremiah Wright stood for after twenty years of blissful obliviousness. The reason that Obama must now disown Jeremiah Wright has nothing to do with Wright’s fringe beliefs. Obama embraced those views for years. But on Monday, Wright dared to question Obama’s integrity. He said in effect that Obama was distancing himself from Wright for political reasons, not because he disagreed with Wright’s views. This is a devastating revelation for a candidate who has built his campaign on personality, not ideas and asks for our vote on the basis that he is reasonable, thoughtful, measured, a person able to transcend politics and racial divisions. If voters believe that Obama fundamentally disagrees with Wright’s views, they might question his judgment for maintaining a relationship for twenty years. But if voters conclude that Obama secretly agrees with Wright, but is putting on another face to win an election, then all is lost.

It is decades too late for Obama to have any credibility when he weakly asserts “when I say I find Wright’s statements appalling, I mean it.” The only thing Obama is appalled by is the fact that his carefully crafted veneer is being stripped away, revealing the unelectable reality which lies beneath.

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