The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Philadelphia Speech Looks Ridiculous Now

To refresh, here’s what Obama said in that Philadelphia speech… the first time he addressed the issue of Jeremiah Wright’s controversial statements. Here are the sections on Wright:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Considering how Wright has compared the U.S. to al-Qaeda, calling him “an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic foreign policy” now sounds like comical understatement. Like calling William Ayers just a professor who lives in the neighborhood, I guess.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

After an hour at the press club, those snippets were not refuted but reinforced. Selective editing doesn’t make Wright appear extreme; Wright makes Wright appear extreme.

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

When he reaches out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, does Wright tell them the U.S. government created the virus that ails them?

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

The “not once have I heard him” line sounds particularly implausible today.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

Obama has now disproven this. Also note how this statement echoes Wright’s insistence that he is not being criticized, but that the entire black church is under attack.

I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

This looked ridiculous at the time, but I wonder how Obama feels about this maddening comparison now.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

In light of events in the past 72 hours, a lot of this looks ridiculous now.
Can we dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue? Yes we can, no irony intended. Those of us who were shocked and appalled by those first clips of Wright’s sermons were right, and Barack Obama, and all of those who accused us of judging Wright unfairly, were wrong.
UPDATE: Pollowitz notices on Obama’s campaign site an invitation to “Make a donation of $30 or more before midnight on Wednesday, April 30th, and receive a DVD and limited edition print of Barack’s “A More Perfect Union” speech on race in America.” 

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