I’m a bit disappointed that Barack Obama finally saw fit to denounce and repudiate (denounced! repudiated! We declare him excommunicated and anathemized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and all his angels and all the reprobate!) the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Although I’m the whitest of white guys, I have some sort of weird soft spot for Wright. I must just like having fiery black preachers around.
I had foolishly hoped Obama really would be be able to transcend the awful conventions of political campaigns, especially the smug and phony patriotism that so poisons our political discourse (a subject for another day’s rant). He seemed to be doing so well, both in small things—eschewing those tacky flag pins—and in large—turning the last flap over Wright into an opportunity for a genuinely important discussion about race.
But I suppose after Wright seemed to imply Obama might secretly agree with him even Obama didn’t feel he had any choice; he was in a sort of “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” situation. Although really I’m not sure that’s exactly what Wright meant. He said
We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.
Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.
As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That’s what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.
Heavens above, does anyone think politicians don’t say what they say and do what they do based on electability?? Whatever else Obama may be, he’s still a wily politician. If he weren’t, he would never have gotten where he is. And if he weren’t, he would frankly make a terrible president. I remember a good line from Joe Klein’s political roman à clef Primary Colors:
You don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president? He had to tell his little stories and smile his shit-eating, backcountry grin. He did it all just so he’d get the opportunity, one day, to stand in front of the nation and appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature.’
Perhaps the real reason Obama had to do something was—as I heard some commentator (no idea who!) say on NPR—that Wright undermines Obama’s basic premise, that America is ready to put its racial problems behind it, and ready to elect a President who transcends racial (and other) divides. Wright’s racial anger belies that. Now, whether that’s really Obama’s premise I tend to doubt—slavery and other race-based horrors are America’s Original Sin (as I’ve said before), and we won’t be done with them for a long time—but yes, righteous anger doesn’t really suit Obama’s message. Some of Wright’s nuttier and more controversial views—his support for the odious Louis Farrakahn, his the-government-created-AIDS conspiracy-theory-mongering—are I think less interesting and worrying in themselves than because they same to be taken seriously by significant numbers of African-Americans. What does that say about the state of race relations in the country now? Nothing Obama’s campaign would like to bring up, I think.
Also on NPR I heard two Congressmen, one a supporter of Clinton and one of Obama, discussing Wright. The Clinton supporter (Emmanuel Cleaver, himself an African-American and a minister) was considerably more pro-Wright than the Obama supporter. My default assumption is that (despite being politicians!) they were both being honest—but it does make a perverse sort of sense for a Clinton supporter to want to emphasize Obama’s connection to Wright in the guise of “praise,” and for an Obama supporter to put all the distance possible between Obama and Wright.