Saturday, March 15, 2008

Point, Counter-Point

It sometimes seems like the Democrats are engaged in a game of Point, Counter-point. We bounce from one to the other. Of course, the latest examples are from Ferraro for Clinton, to Wright for Obama.

My on-line/off-line friend Susan emailed me about the latest foray into the game -- the controversy over the remarks of Obama's minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. My friend expressed her concern about what the future will hold for Obama, observing that, in addition to the efforts of the Clinton camp to attack Obama, the right-wing conservatives have already begun to slime him:

After the last couple of days of listening to the repeated (and re-repeated, and re-re-repeated, and so on) plays of selected bits from Rev Wright's sermons, I have a sinking feeling about Obama's prospects with anyone other than blacks and over educated secular humanists like us. I predict a sizeable enough portion of the voting public is going to be believe he is both a Muslim terrorists and an acolyte of Christian Minster Wright and Louis Farrakhan, or at least use his pastor's sermons as a convenient way to rationalize their purely ignorant hateful racism.
The Washington Post has provided a hit parade of Wright quotes, in case anyone had missed them, Preacher With a Penchant for Controversy, such as:
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. . . . America's chickens are coming home to roost."

-- Sermon, September 2001

* * * *

"Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No, he ain't. Bill did us just like he did Monica Lewinsky."

-- Sermon, January 2008

And then there are the Editorials like this one by Ronald Kessler in the WSJ, Preacher With a Penchant for Controversy:

In a sermon delivered at Howard University, Barack Obama's longtime minister, friend and adviser blamed America for starting the AIDS virus, training professional killers, importing drugs and creating a racist society that would never elect a black candidate president.

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Mr. Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, gave the sermon at the school's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel in Washington on Jan. 15, 2006.

"We've got more black men in prison than there are in college," he began. "Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. No black man will ever be considered for president, no matter how hard you run Jesse [Jackson] and no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body."

Mr. Wright thundered on: "America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. . . . We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers . . . We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi . . . We put [Nelson] Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God."

* * * *

Considering this view of America, it's not surprising that in December Mr. Wright's church gave an award to Louis Farrakhan for lifetime achievement.

* * * *

Hearing Mr. Wright's venomous and paranoid denunciations of this country, the vast majority of Americans would walk out. Instead, Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle have presumably sat through numerous similar sermons by Mr. Wright.

Indeed, Mr. Obama has described Mr. Wright as his "sounding board" during the two decades he has known him. Mr. Obama has said he found religion through the minister in the 1980s. He joined the church in 1991 and walked down the aisle in a formal commitment of faith.

The title of Mr. Obama's bestseller "The Audacity of Hope" comes from one of Wright's sermons. Mr. Wright is one of the first people Mr. Obama thanked after his election to the Senate in 2004. Mr. Obama consulted Mr. Wright before deciding to run for president. He prayed privately with Mr. Wright before announcing his candidacy last year.

Mr. Obama obviously would not choose to belong to Mr. Wright's church and seek his advice unless he agreed with at least some of his views. In light of Mr. Wright's perspective, Michelle Obama's comment that she feels proud of America for the first time in her adult life makes perfect sense.

Besides the fiery sermonizing, the truth is Wright is mostly correct about which he speaks. See Barack Obama's appeal to the rational brain and Yes, this is a Racist Country, and Saying So is Not Racist. Frankly, using Ferraro's line, if he were white and expressed similar opinions, he'd be a celebrated Evangelical minister and he'd be best buds with many Republican politicians. Think Jerry Falzwell. Think James Dobson and Pat Robertson. Think John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

Of course, in line with the new required standard of conduct, Obama has now publicly stated that he disagrees with the sentiments expressed by Rev. Wright. He blogged about it, no less, on the Huffington Post, On My Faith and My Church, saying:

The pastor of my church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently preached his last sermon and is in the process of retiring, has touched off a firestorm over the last few days. He's drawn attention as the result of some inflammatory and appalling remarks he made about our country, our politics, and my political opponents.

Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.

Can we believe his words? Are you kidding? Seriously, is there truly any intelligent person out there who believes that Barack Obama harbors those views? No, but that doesn't stop people from trying to link him to those opinions to hurt his chances -- either in the primary or the general election. Repeat it often enough, it might convince enough people -- you know, the Archie Bunker's of the world.

I can't begin to say how ridiculous it is to hold either candidate to the words of a supporter and the latest trend of requiring the candidate to disavow the orator is asinine. I've mentioned this before, in admitting that some of my best friends are Republicans. See I Know a Republican. These relationships haven't affected my views even a little bit, trust me. Hell, I rarely agree with the political leanings of my mother -- do I have to reject her altogether in order to maintain my standing as a liberal feminist?

Also, to make my point clear, my previous objections to the statements of Geraldine Ferraro don't necessarily extend to Hillary Clinton -- unless there reaches the point at which it becomes a pattern of conduct that can be attributed to the Clinton campaign itself or the candidate. When it reaches that point is where I draw the line, as I mentioned in another essay on this issue, The Tipping Point.

Will this, as my friend Susan fears, cause Obama to become damaged goods and de-rail his chances in the election (primary and/or general)? I suppose if he survives these attacks, it will only make him stronger, which he will need to be to survive the fall onslaught of dirt and dastardly deeds by the GOP that are sure to come, if he is the candidate.

UPDATE (3/17): Echoing my comments that if Rev. Wright were white, he'd be a "darling of the Republican Party," one of the founders of the Religious right, Frank Schaeffer, observed Obama's Minister Committed "Treason" but When my Father Said the Same Thing He Was a Republican Hero:
When Senator Obama's preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father -- Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer -- denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father's footsteps) rail against America's sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the 'murder of the unborn,' has become 'Sodom' by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, 'under the judgment of God.' They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama's minister's shouted 'controversial' comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.