The problems with Rev. Wright and Sen. Obama are fivefold. They won’t go away, but they will raise dilemmas for him that have no analogy, no parallel with other religious leaders of dubious past declamations who have supported the other candidates:
1) The Obamas were not merely endorsed by, or attended the church of, Rev. Wright, but subsidized his hatred with generous donations, were married by him, and had their children baptized by this venomous preacher; there is nothing quite comparable in the case of Sens. Clinton and McCain.
2) Rev. Wright’s invective is not insensitive or hyperbolic alone, but in the end disgusting. And when listened to rather than read, the level of emotion and fury only compound the racism and hatred, whether in its attack on the Clintons, or profanity-laced slander of the United States and its history, or in gratuitous references to other races. Its reactionary Afrocentrism, conspiracy-theory, and illiberal racial separatism take us back to the 1970s, and compare with the worst of the fossilized Farrakhan—and have no remote parallel in the present campaign.
3) Sen. Obama has proclaimed a new politics of hope and change that were supposedly to transcend such venom and character assassination of the past. Thus besides being politically dense, he suffers—unless he preempts and explains in detail his Byzantine relationship with the Reverend—the additional charge of hypocrisy in courting such a merchant of hate. And then he compounds the disaster by the old-fashion politics of contortion and excuse by suggesting the Rev. Wright is not that controversial, or is analogous to the occasional embarrassing outburst of an uncle—some uncle.
4) There is a growing sense of betrayal among some of his supporters. Sen. Obama promised to transcend race; millions of sincere people of both parties took him at his word and invested psychologically and materially in his candidacy. Part of his message was that collectively America had made great progress, and their Ivy League and subsequent careers, in addition to his rhetoric of inclusiveness and tolerance, bore witness to that progress in racial equality. Now we learn, that for much of his career, he was not only attending hate-filled sermons against “rich white people” and the “g-d d—-d America” (in hopes of solidifying his racial fides in regional Chicago politics?), but subsidized that ministry of intolerance. So while he promised an evolution beyond the race-identity politics of Jesse Jackson or the Rev. Sharpton, his own minister trumped anything that either one of those preachers might have sermonized. All in all—a betrayal.
5) The timing is especially troubling. In delegate mathematics, Obama seems to have the nomination; but this scandal—and it is a scandal despite the best efforts of sympathetic journalists to downplay it—will only cause worry for the super delegates, who now must either nominate a candidate (no doubt the vast right-wing conspiracy is examining the multivolume DVDs of Rev. Wright’s collective corpus of hatred) who will bleed all spring and summer, or “steal” the nomination from the “people” and “hand it over” to Hillary.
So now in place of a critical discussion of issues from taxes to the war, welcome to the Politics of Change.