The Corner

Race and the Democrats, Part IV

–The modified hang-out, and the modified modified hangout

Despite the serial profession of a new politics, there is something Nixonian about Obama’s recent disclaimers over his racist pastor’s diatribes. At first he tried to blame the messenger:

“Here is what happens when you just cherry-pick statements from a guy who had a 40-year career as a pastor.”

The problem is not cherries, Senator, but an entire orchard. The most egregious slurs are not from two decades past, but post 9/11 and especially in 2006. And Obama should have learned from Nixon that when there is something there, it is best to get out in front of it in a manner that anticipates more disturbing revelations. Yet the modified hangout then followed;

“It’s a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS.”

This is a de facto defense of, not a distancing from, Wright, and begs the question of why? And the AIDs evocation is especially damning since the reverend has made it clear that HIV was our own creation, apparently part and parcel of some US government conspiracy. Is Obama now suggesting that Wright did important civic work with AIDs even though he promulgated a belief that the virus was fabricated by our own government? And then comes the modified modified hangout:

“But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.”

That makes it even worse, because now Obama hints that he might have been in fact aware of the Wright rhetoric, but gave him a pass because he was “on the verge of retirement,” as if the albatross were about to disappear anyway, and with it the cause of prior embarrassment. And the evocation of his marriage and his children’s baptisms in such an extremist landscape should not be cited as reasons to stay in it, but rather should have been evoked as causes why he should get out—and not have his family further tainted by it. And it goes on and on:

“And while Rev. Wright’s statements have pained and angered me, I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in; on my values, judgment and experience to be President of the United States.”

“Judgment” is the wrong word here, because the entire Wright liaison is proof positive of terrible judgment. And the problem is not judging Sen. Obama “on the basis of what someone else said”, but on the basis of his own generous subsidies to someone who spewed forth not mere speech, but hate speech.

And when Obama announces, “The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation,” he only will prompt investigative reporters to rush to substantiate whether the Senator was there when any of this calumny was preached, or has given a hint that he was aware of it in the past. No doubt every word he has written, interview he has given, and people he has talked with will be examined to see whether that astounding statement is in fact true. For some strange reason, Obama has now banked his entire campaign on his word and assurance that he did not hear on a single occasion any such screed.

I hope he is correct. But if one were to collate the reverend’s views on what his congregation should think of the United States, and, further, his writs against Americans as “selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant” with Michelle Obama’s own astounding statements that hitherto she had no pride in the United States, and considered America “just downright mean,” and Americans “guided by fear” and (in the words of the New Yorker profiler) who summed up her views as ‘we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents’ the echoes are eerie.

Without sounding dramatic, I think his campaign has seriously underestimated the effect of the Wright tapes on the average American voter (again, the problem is not just the transcript, but the delivery, most notably its fury and coarseness), and the senator’s own abject inability honestly and forthrightly to explain the close relationship of the Obamas to Reverend Wright, apologize for such a lapse of judgment, and move on. His advisors are culpable here, and apparently in their spin have no clue that they are making things worse rather than better.

Instead, we have heard first “cherry-picking” and then that the reverend does not represent his own views, but not a hint of contrition for an association with such a demagogue and hate-monger. I think this will not go away, and ultimately damage Obama beyond repair, for it strikes at the heart of his very candidacy—that he was a healer who has transcended racial divides, and was introducing a new credo of transparent and painfully forthright politics. The Wright scandal and his reaction thus far belie both. This was precisely why Hillary stayed in the race, and mirabile dictu, perhaps what she imagined would eventually transpire.

Whatever one’s views, this is both a travesty and a tragedy.

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