Politics & Policy

“Folks” in his “past,” &c.

Feel like a little Wright-’n’-Obama? You know you can’t get enough. Obama said, “I think people understand that I am not perfect and that there are going to be folks in my past like Reverend Wright that may cause them some concern . . .”

“Folks in my past”? His past? Wow, that was fast. Two seconds ago, Wright was his spiritual mentor (truly), an adviser to his campaign, praying with him before his presidential announcement, and so on. His past? Well, I guess in a technical sense: Even yesterday is past.

‐Obama, I must say, is extraordinarily lucky in his timing. The Wright stuff (if you’ll pardon the expression), and the Rezko stuff, and the Ayers stuff, broke at exactly the right time for him, if any of this stuff had to break at all: It broke too late to deny him the nomination (in all probability); and it broke too early to cause him much trouble in the general.

I believe all these things will be largely a memory by the time the general heats up, partly because the McCain campaign will be reluctant to raise them. McCain saves his scolding and judgmentalism for conservatives. Sometimes he seems to obey a weird pas d’ennemies à gauche dictum. (It’s true that he gets frosted at the New York Times — now.)

‐I learned the word frosted — meaning irked — from Pat Buchanan, many years ago. He did not tell me personally; I heard him say it on television. (I think he said to Sen. Alan Simpson, “I hear you’re a little frosted at some of my friends.”) Have liked the word ever since.

‐The luckiest politician in America? Not Obama, but McCain. His nomination is really a miracle. Everything had to break right — perfectly right — for him, and it did. Romney had to be checked by Huckabee (and, I’m afraid, by his Mormonism). Thompson had to fizzle. Giuliani had to do that weird pullout from New Hampshire and other states. Then McCain won his modest pluralities in some states. And the next thing you knew, Romney was on television withdrawing and pledging his support of McCain.

This was just bizarro.

‐There are those — some smart those — who say that McCain is the only Republican who could win the presidency this year. If that is true: his nomination was extraordinarily lucky, for all of us R’s.

‐Al Sharpton was riling ’em up in New York City, after a verdict he didn’t like. Obama — talking about that same verdict — urged nonviolence. And Sharpton didn’t like that at all, saying that the candidate was “grandstanding in front of white people.” A very interesting charge, that.

You know how I wish Obama had responded? This is impossible, of course, but I wish he could say something like, “I come from the tradition of Martin Luther King. I am an integrationist and healer. Just as black radicals called King a Tom, some make similar accusations against me today. And just as they could stuff it then, they can stuff it now.”

Of course, what does Obama really believe? How much Jeremiah Wright is in him? To use the Wall Street Journal’s well-known formulation: Who is he?

‐Sharpton accused Obama of grandstanding in front of white people. The thought occurs: Sharpton has spent his entire life grandstanding in front of everybody. In fact, “grandstander” should be on his business card, if he doesn’t like “race hustler” (or, alternatively, “racial arsonist”).

‐Couple of days ago, I was watching a video compilation of Reverend Wright — kind of his greatest hits. (Sorry, can’t find, at the moment, what I was watching, but there are dozens of them on the Net.) You know something? Wright is far uglier than I knew — uglier of mind and spirit, I mean.

For one thing, he talks about “white people and Uncle Toms” — making a camp out of them. I guess a Tom is a black man who disagrees with Jeremiah Wright. He also uses “Negroes” in a pejorative sense — for him, it’s a synonym of “Toms.” He particularly attacks Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. He refers to Rice as “Condamnesia.”

And, over and over again, he says that America had it coming — had 9/11 coming. Payback for slavery, somehow, and for other indignities. And when Wright talks about “chickens coming home to roost,” doesn’t he seem pretty happy? Even gleeful?

Watching Wright, I was reminded of Amos Brown, the San Francisco politician-pastor. Do you remember him? He used the occasion of a memorial service, a few days after 9/11, to take it to America: “America, America, what did you do — either intentionally or unintentionally — in the world order, in Central America, in Africa . . .?” (At least he said “either intentionally or unintentionally” — he was feeling moderate that day, perhaps in deference to our still-smoldering dead.) “America, what did you do in the global-warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the world conference on racism, when you wouldn’t show up?”

That last refers to Durban, that hate-filled, anti-American, anti-Semitic jamboree.

Anyway . . .

I know that Jeremiah Wright and his defenders say that soundbites are unfair. Often soundbites are. But, if you’re screaming out hate and kookery time after time, how much “context” do other people need? If you say that the government is spreading harmful drugs among blacks, and inventing AIDS to kill them, how much context do you need? If you say that blacks need to stop fighting one another and concentrate on the “enemy,” how much context do you need?

And by “enemy,” I don’t believe Wright is talking about irresponsibility, despair, etc.

Wrenching words out of context is a terrible trick. It has happened to all of us, at one time or another. But crying “context” falsely is pretty bad too.

‐Barack Obama drank in Wright for 20 years, and had his family led by him — and it’s supposed not to matter? It’s supposed not to say anything about him? Really?

‐Just one more item on Wright. I was reading about his appearance before the NAACP. (The article is here.) And I was struck by these words of his:

I would also like to thank sister Melanie Maron, the former executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the current executive director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Jewish Committee. I would like to thank my good friend and Jewish author Tim Wise for his support.

“Jewish author”? I know that Wright is trying to inoculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism — but “Jewish author Tim Wise”? Doesn’t that phrase make you the teensy-weensiest uncomfortable?

Should Jewish authors wear yellow stars, for easier identification?

‐Let’s go back to a more pleasant subject: McCain. Many, many Impromptus readers have written in to say roughly the following: “The less McCain talks, the more I like him. And the more he talks, the more I dislike him. When he’s been on the sidelines for a while, I start to like him better. But when he gets in, and starts to talk: I think, ‘Oh, yeah — that’s how he is.’”

Many readers thought this way in the recent North Carolina flap. And some ask, “Would McCain be better off just going on vacation till Election Day?”

In Monday’s Impromptus, I suggested that, no matter how non-McCainiacs in the GOP feel about the senator now, they will be ready to crawl over broken glass to vote for him, come that Tuesday in November.

Many readers wrote in to say, “I’m not so sure.” (I’m pretty sure — just you wait, as you contemplate the prospect of President Obama or President Hillary.) And one reader said something amusing: “When I crawl over broken glass, I’ll have two knees cut and bleeding, but only one hand in bad shape: because the other will be holding my nose.”

There is kind of a deep Republican truth this year in that jest.

‐People say that Bill Clinton has irreparably harmed his special relationship with black Americans, given how the Democratic primary campaign has gone. I don’t think so. That relationship means more to him than just about anything in the world. (I wrote about this a lot when he was president.) If Obama is the nominee — when he is the nominee — Clinton will campaign like crazy for him. And that’ll be that, I believe. He can make amends, and he’ll want to, in the worst way.

‐There are lots of maddening things about Jimmy Carter’s claim to be a human-rights man. And one of them is this: When he visits countries such as Syria, as he did recently, he has a golden opportunity — a golden opportunity to press the cause of human rights, to look in on some prisoners, simply to inquire about them. He can make such people feel less alone; some of them might even be freed, on account of his visit.

But there he is, chatting with the dictator Assad about Israel. And how about democrats and liberals languishing in Syrian dungeons? What about Riad Seif, Kamal Labwani, Anwar Bunni, and lots of others?

Maddening.

But didn’t I say I was through with commentary about Jimmy Carter? Forgive my backsliding . . .

#JAYBOOK# 

‐Quite possibly, you haven’t read much praise of Bush lately. Would you like to read some from Paul Johnson? You can find it in his current Forbes magazine column, here. It is titled, “Glad Bush Is Still Around.” And it begins,

I don’t regard George W. Bush as a lame-duck president. Between now and next January all sorts of challenging and unexpected events may take place. We can rely on President Bush to react promptly and decisively to them.

On the general subject of PJ (not to be confused with P-J, which is Pryce-Jones): I can’t tell you the pleasure, learning, comfort, encouragement, and downright joy he has given me — and many, many others — over the years. (Same with P-J.) I tell him every chance I get. I will continue . . .

‐It was awfully good that Scalia went on 60 Minutes — I wish he and other able conservatives would do more of that kind of thing. It was a teaching moment: a chance to talk to millions of people (I imagine) who have probably never heard proper conservative arguments. Where would they have heard them? College?

People must have been amazed that a justice could decide based on the Constitution, rather than personal feelings or opinions. Scalia said (essentially), “Look, it’s not my view: It’s what is permissible and impermissible under the Constitution. If you want this or that, by all means pass a law — and if the Constitution permits it, I’ll okay it. Even if it’s a law I deplore. But if the Constitution does not, I won’t.”

Yes, do more media, Nino — mille grazie.

‐I love it when Islamofascists are candid — or anybody is candid. Take Hamas (please). The other day, capo Khaled Mashaal told al-Jazeera that a ceasefire would be a mere “tactic” in Hamas’s struggle to destroy Israel. Here’s our Khaled:

It [a ceasefire] is a tactic in conducting the struggle . . . It is normal for any resistance . . . to sometimes escalate, other times retreat a bit. . . . Hamas is known for that. In 2003, there was a ceasefire and then the operations were resumed.

Oh, you betcha.

‐So, Gov. Mike Easley (D., N.C.) is in a bit of trouble for using the word “pansy” — he said that Senator Clinton is not one. This was supposed to be an anti-gay slur. I don’t regard it that way, do you? No matter what the dictionary says, the word seems to me to say “weakling, violet.”

I was reminded of something that occurred in my own little life, here in the big city: In a concert review, I used the expression “airy-fairy.” And a reader got his nose bent out of shape, claiming I had used an anti-gay slur.

Puh-leeze, as they say. Or, to use an expression I believe was popular in the ’70s, come off it.

‐Want your daily dose of Che — or your regular dose of Che? You got it, I’m afraid. Reader writes,

Jay,

Just when you think you have seen everything Che . . . Honestly, I am tempted to send an e-mail to the eBay seller in question saying that I am a collector of all things associated with despots, thugs, mass murderers, etc., and would he have access to any Stalin, Saddam, Pol Pot, or Kim Jong Il golf-ball markers?

You got to be kidding me . . .

The item in question is right here.

I hope they know not what they do. But they may well.

‐Care for some music, to take the Che away? (Sounds like a song.) For a review of Lee Hoiby — two of his operas — go here. And for a review of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (and, in particular, the music of Joan Tower), go here. These reviews were published in the New York Sun.

‐Thanks so much for joining me today, for this too-long column. (I got a little Wright-and-Obama mad.) Impromptus will likely be sparse in coming weeks: Doing some NR cruising, and some other gallivanting, and some Mideast conferencing — you know the drill. I’ll definitely be writing you from the Middle East, as in years past. In the meantime, take care of yourself. And if you’re a super-delegate: Consider neither Hillary nor Obama, but McCain!

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