Posted by Damozel | ABC reports on the sermons of Barack Obama's minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. As painful to me as it is to read such wholesale denunciations of my entire race (which I didn't choose), I understand the anger that drove the Reverend Wright to say these things.
I grew up in the Jim Crow South in the pre-desegregation days. I have seen first-hand and up close the effects of institutionalized racism. It's why I am now a Democrat. I believe that to be a racist is a grave offense against God, humanity, and decency. And---yes---I believe that it is a worse offense when driven by the will to power and a belief in one's own genetic claim to power, rather than by the effects of pain and frustration over the actions of those who claim such power.
Because I believe that racism is a grave moral and ethical offense, I also believe that to label someone 'racist' is a grave insult. It is not a word that I ever use lightly of anyone.
So something has gone badly wrong when a Democrat who worked all her life for the civil rights of African-Americans---say, Hillary Clinton---is being called racist on the strength of comments that either (1) weren't racist on their face and deemed so only through willful deconstruction and misinterpretation, or (2) were made by others and attributed to Hillary. Something has gone badly wrong when merely supporting a candidate who happens to be white gets you called a racist by other Democrats, as has happened to Democrat Taylor Marsh.
The publicity which Obama's minister is now receiving has been reframed by one progressive blogger I very much admire as implicating---you guessed it---Hillary Clinton. Of course, we all know how effectively Hillary manipulates the media to ensure that she gets favorable treatment. In fact, they have relentlessly trashed her. Has she suddenly gained magical powers? I'm guessing that the story was broken when it was broken because the media love to rip the rug out of campaigns that have gone too far in sanctimoniousness, faked faked-up righteous indignation and hypocrisy.
Pro-Obama bloggers argue that the views of Obama's minister aren't relevant and shouldn't matter. At Balloon Juice, John Cole wonders what difference any of this makes, since both ministers are just peddling nonsense to the masses? I must respectfully disagree with John Cole, who believes that only a 'rube' would care about the views of Obama's or McCain's ministers.
But perhaps John Cole and other progressives should care. After all, think of the damage that W's religious values have done to the progress of embryonic stem cell research, among other policies. When W and Karl not-a-person-of-faith Rove were in the ascendant, many of us worried about how W's evangelical bent was driving his political decisions and particularly his foreign policy.
In August 2005, Bill McKibben published a crucial article in Harper's called The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong that examined some of the assumptions of right-wing Christians. I'd recommend it to anyone who thinks the religious views of people in power shouldn't be of concern to the voting public. Christopher Hitchens, an outspoken opponent of religion---my understatement of the week---has argued that a politician's specific beliefs can and do matter, and are a legitimate issue for voters to probe.
So I don't think it is out of order for people to be concerned when they learn that two of the three front-running candidates attend churches where the ministers have expressed such extreme views as John McCain's minister or Obama's. After all, out of all the churches there are in this country, why affiliate with churches whose spiritual leaders express such extreme views?
I've already dealt with John McCain's minister's "Destroy Islam!" rhetoric. The situation being what it is after W's eight years in office, forgive me if I'm not comfortable with the idea of a candidate who attends a church that ascribes to such views. I ask myself whether McCain's choice to switch from Episcopalian to Baptist to a fundamentalist Pentecostal Church was motivated by cynical political goals (appeal to the fundies) or by an affinity for the church's values. I find neither choice palatable.
As for Obama, the Reverend Wright, pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, seems to have been his minister for 20 years.(ABC News) According The Chicago Tribune: "Obama says that rather than advising him on strategy, Wright helps keep his priorities straight and his moral compass calibrated." People might well feel slightly uneasy, now that they've been made aware of the Reverend Wright's views.
But the double standard that has applied throughout this campaign---one rule for Obama, another for Hillary---is putting a lot of wear and tear on my forbearance. Since the South Carolina primary, Obama's campaign has been attributing the statements of Hillary's supporters to Hillary, even people to whom she was not related, was not employing, and therefore could not control.
Targeting Clinton for her 'surrogates' has become a routine response for the Obama campaign and his supporters. At The New Republic, Sean Wilentz argued that Obama's campaign has used race baiting since New Hampshire to entrap and undermine the Clinton campaign. I don't know that I agree with his allegations of race-baiting, but I do think that the 'brilliant' Obama campaign has been disingenuous if not outright hypocritical.
The Wall Street Journal---no friend to the Clinton campaign--- today asked "Is it just us, or does Barack Obama seem a mite too quick to play the race card when facing criticism from political opponents?"
[F]or all of Mr. Obama's soaring rhetoric about the nation's need for a post-racial politics that "brings the American people together," his campaign at times has seemed overly sensitive about race. It also seems to want it both ways. Mr. Obama claims that his brand of politics transcends race, but at the same time he's using race as a shield to shut down important and legitimate arguments. (WSJ)
Wanting it both ways is the primary characteristic of Obama's 'brilliant' campaign, according to me. While accusing Clinton----who I'd say has been reasonably restrained in response---of doing or saying whatever it took to 'win at all costs,' Obama's campaign has done exactly that...and the media has bought into it hook, line, and sinker. It's not about race, according to me, but about stooping to any maneuver that seems likely to work.
If the Obama campaign had played civilly, fairly, and ingenuously---which I do NOT believe---the statements of his minister would not now be an issue for him. If Obama's campaign had been less hubristic and disingenuous, Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic party would now be rushing indignantly to his defense. After all: Obama, a racist? What abject nonsense.
If they had played fair, they could count on the support of the entire party against this. "As you sow, so you reap." But since they didn't, they can't.
Or can they? I wouldn't put it past Hillary to take the high road. Last night, before any of this happened, Hillary apologized to representatives of more than 200 black newspapers from across the country for anything her campaign might have said that caused them offense, and said that she will support Obama if he wins the nomination. She promised to work to restore party unity by demanding that her supporters give their support to Obama. (Breitbart.com)
Yes, I know. The Obama bloggers will now doubtless argue that Hillary is simply trying to make herself look good at Obama's expense. But I hope she takes the opportunity to set an example. As Pamela Leavey of the Democratic Daily says, it's time to stop the madness.
I am devastated that we've reached this point because initially I was so thrilled at the prospect of an African-American's rise to political eminence and---eventually, I hoped, though not necessarily now---to the presidency. Alas---talk of 'the audacity of hope'---I dared to dream of a Democratic regime that would last the next 16 years; first, Hillary/Obama; next, Obama/Edwards. All broken to pieces now.
As Egalia of Tennessee Guerilla Women says, "Somebody please wake me after President McCain's inauguration." I prefer my own nightmares to the one this campaign has become.