Had Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) said the following words in his speech last week on race in America, his problems with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, would probably now be over:
“You have all heard the racist and anti-American outbursts of my pastor Rev. Wright. They are all inexcusable. His speeches have forced me to reexamine my long association with Trinity United Church of Christ. And so it is with regret that I must now leave that church.
“I had heard similar extremist language of Rev. Wright in the past, and now apologize that I did not earlier end my attendance and contributions. Had I long ago expressed my strong objections to Rev. Wright’s views, such opposition might have suggested to him a more moderate path.
“But any good that now might come by remaining steadfast to Rev. Wright in consideration of our long past friendship is outweighed by the damage that would accrue from the sanction of his extremism that my continued attendance at his church might convey.
“I have loyalty aplenty, but it is to the truth, my country, and universal tolerance, not to any one friend — however long and close our association.
“Allegations that America helped to cause — and thus deserved — 9/11 and that the U.S. government engineered the AIDS epidemic, as well as the pastor’s slurs against ‘white people’ and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are not reflective of the views of mainstream black America and they have no place in any house of Christian worship.
“It would be easy to claim that Rev. Wright’s biases are no different from those voiced on occasion by our own family members, our pastors, or political leaders in the public eye, and therefore not so injurious to America. That defense of false equivalence, that ‘others do it all the time,’ is a common one offered by those who offend the public sensibility.
“It would also be easy to excuse my pastor’s outbursts by citing the long tragic history of the African-American experience. After all, every extremist outburst always has a particular and perhaps mitigating context.
“And finally it would be easy to suggest that the special landscape of the black church allows a sort of venting and role-playing unlike other common venues in America. It has often been a refuge from white oppression and a place to make sense of the tragic history of race relations that plague us still. That and the good that Rev. Wright has done could also be an extenuating circumstance.
“But neither Pastor Wright nor I — a candidate for the presidency of the United States — can afford to find refuge in any of these relativist explanations. To do so would not merely exempt the statements of Rev. Wright from proper censure, but also would have the effect of offering endorsement to them. Here is why we must not and will not do that:
“First, today’s America has evolved into a multiracial society unlike anytime in our long history. Each of America’s groups has unique grievances, based on their own past ordeals.
“So now more than ever in American history, there is need to establish a universal, absolute standard of public discourse in which no individual or group claims extenuating circumstances to demonize other Americans. Otherwise, the bar will have been lowered — and merchants of hate of every sort will soon follow, each citing Rev. Wright’s allowance as a pass for his own hate speech.
“Second, we are in our fifth decade since the landmark civil-rights legislation of the 1960s. And while the African-American community has made enormous strides, it still has not achieved parity with either the white majority or some other minorities. The reasons are complex, but they cannot be simply reduced to white racism or the purported pathologies of the United States, as Rev. Wright supposed. We African-Americans must be as vigilant in demanding an equality of opportunity for all Americans as in ensuring that crime, illegitimacy, drug use, and high school dropout rates are no higher in the African-American community than in others.
“Third, Americans were appalled, as was I, at my minister cursing the United States. But we must always appreciate the unique nature of America, an experiment that unites a multiplicity of religions, races, and ethnicities, and endures only to the degree we all adhere to a common set of values. We must never think that because the United States has sometimes not been perfect, it is not good.
“The hard work of creating and improving the United States required centuries; the easier task of tearing apart America can be done in a generation. But neither you nor I can or will allow that to happen. Thank you, and God bless the United States of America.”
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author, most recently, of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
© 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.