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March 20, 2008

Obama Distances Himself From Racist Pastor - But Did He Go Far Enough?

By The Stiletto

In Philadelphia yesterday Barack Obama (D-IL) gave the speech about his core religious beliefs that presidential aspirant Mitt Romney (R-MA) should have given back in December. He unequivocally acknowledged that some of Jeremiah Wright's comments were racially divisive, hurtful, and do not represent his feelings about the only country on earth in which "my story is even possible."


In Philadelphia yesterday Barack Obama (D-IL) gave the speech about his core religious beliefs that presidential aspirant Mitt Romney (R-MA) should have given back in December. He unequivocally acknowledged that his some of his "former pastor's" (more on that later) comments were racially divisive and hurtful, and do not represent his feelings about the only country on earth in which "my story is even possible."

After thanking former Sen. Harris Wofford (D-PA) for his introductory remarks (which were a tad over the top for The Stiletto's taste, likening Obama to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), Obama continued the historical riff ("Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy") before getting down to brass tacks:
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least 20 more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. ...

What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience, and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this presidential campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. ...

What was notable about Obama's speech was that – unlike Romney - he gave voice to the persistent concerns many voters had about him, his beliefs and the extent of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's influence over him, and dealt with them forcefully one by one:
I've gone to some of the best schools in America and I've lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners, an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.

I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue scattered across three continents. And for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible. It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional of candidates.

But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one. ...

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wild- and wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.

On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy, and in some cases, pain. ...

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive ...

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino, Asian, rich, poor, young and old - is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. ...

America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

Obama also took the $64,000 question head on: "Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place? Why not join another church?":
Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. ...

The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America. ...

Now, some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. ...

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through, a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect. ...

Reverend Wright and other African- Americans of his generation ... came of age in the late '50s and early '60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. ...

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations ...

Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their world view in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.

That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co- workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians to gin up votes along racial lines or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.

And then, in a stroke of pure political genius, Obama acknowledged that working-class and middle-class whites begrudge affirmative action, busing and other measures meant to redress "an injustice that they themselves never committed," particularly since "no one handed [their immigrant forebears] anything," and equated these feelings with the ongoing resentment blacks feel – continually stoked by Rev. Wright and other race-baiting pastors in churches nationwide – even as one of their own is making a credible attempt at capturing the highest office in the land.

As befitting a man who is right up there with Washington and Lincoln before he has even assumed the mantle of the presidency, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof declares Obama's speech "a masterpiece to go down in history along with Bryan's 'Cross of Gold' and Kennedy's about his Catholicism." (Yes, Nick, but did you feel anything going up your leg?)

It was a good speech – perhaps even a great speech – but The Stiletto wouldn't go that far, especially as Obama got cute in a few spots and was less than forthright:

Obama misleadingly referred to Rev. Wright as his "ex-pastor," implying that one of the ways in which he has repudiated Wright's racist, anti-American rhetoric is to choose to receive spiritual guidance from another pastor. The truth is, Wright resigned and another pastor is assuming his duties.

Obama's view of his obligation as a Christian is fine in so far as it goes ("Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well."), but most Christians do not equate Jesus's exhortations that it is our collective obligation to G-d to help the poor, the weak and the despised as a call to adopt a Marxist regime. And Obama does not say whether he thinks Jesus was a poor black man who lived in a country and a culture controlled by rich European white people, as Wright has taught.

Obama says that Rev. Wright and his fellow congregants at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ "are a part of me, and they are part of America, this country that I love," but he did not explain why his wife had a profoundly different reaction to the same sermons he listened to for 20 years and had become inculcated with the belief that there was nothing about America she could be proud of – at least, until her husband's candidacy – and has even called America an "outright mean" nation.

Obama points out that whites do not express their anger "in public, in front of white co- workers or white friends" – unless they are suicidal and want to lose their jobs, get pilloried in the media and become pariahs in their communities – but they do talk amongst themselves "in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table." As OpinionJournal's James Taranto astutely points out: "Note how Obama elides the difference between a comment at the 'kitchen table' and a sermon delivered to a congregation of thousands and recorded on DVD."

Obama complained that, "[Republican] politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends" and that "talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism." What was Rev. Wright doing if not exploiting the fears of the black community for his own political ends ("The government gives him the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing 'G-d Bless America.' No, no, no. Not 'G-d Bless America.' 'G-d damn America.'"), or making bogus claims of genocidal racism ("The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.") while dismissing legitimate advances blacks have made socially and economically? Obama should have clearly equated what Wright was doing with what these divisive politicians and pundits were doing.

It remains to be seen whether Obama's speech allays the concerns of Americans who wonder whether he is really what he presents himself to be. Is he a biracial, multi-ethnic man who transcends race and embodies the hopes and promise of America? Or is he a closet racist (AKA "black separatist") who believes that Jesus was a black man; that the U.S. government purposefully infected blacks with the AIDS virus to wipe them out; and that America should be damned for its treatment of blacks from its inception onward?

One doesn't have to be an anti-black racist not to want to vote for an anti-white racist.

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Victoria Knox (AKA The Stiletto) blogs about politics and … you name it, since these days everything has become politicized..