Barack Obama made what his admirers consider an epochal speech on race in Philadelphia this March. So Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who very much admires himself, decided to make his own epochal speech to the National Press Club in Washington.
Reverend Wright complained that the hostile media have chopped his thought up into sound bites, and then repeated all the bites. HIV may well be a government plot to slaughter black people (“I believe we are capable”). We had it coming on 9/11 (“You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you”). Louis Farrakhan, the racist crackpot with his science-fiction religion, “is not my enemy.” Farrakhan’s view of Israel is “the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for” (he got that one right). Like the Roman Empire in Jesus’s day, “we run the world.” The reverend’s worldview is an intoxicated mix of despair and narcissism: White America is corrupt and all-powerful, and can only be shaken by an endless chorus of complaint, led by Afrocentric divines. There might be some Christianity mixed up in all this detritus, and someone might even find salvation in it. But such a disciple will have trouble persuading the electorate to make him president.
Jeremiah Wright is not going anywhere. He is a newly retired geezer with the national spotlight on him; these are his lifetime victory laps. Can his parishioner and spiritual son, Barack Obama, go away from him? Obama had the chance to cut the cord when Hurricane Wright first blew in March, but, while criticizing certain of Wright’s views, he said he could no more disown him than he could disown his white grandmother. Wright is Obama’s family, and more. Obama needed Wright when he was a young community organizer and nascent pol to give him street cred; he needed him, at a deeper level, to replace his deadbeat Kenyan father and his hippie-screwball white mother. Most people say, at one time or another, with gratitude or resignation, you can’t choose your parents. Obama chose this parent.
Obama tried valiantly to squelch this latest eruption. “When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS . . . there are no excuses.” Wright’s bleats “offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced.” Politics sometimes requires those who play the game to betray their nearest and dearest, and themselves. Even the politics of hope.