Sunday, March 23, 2008

A More Perfect Union

Latest Newspaper Column:

Well, they couldn't find fault in Barack Obama, so they've decided to go after his preacher.

The latest whipped-up media furor involves statements made, not by Obama himself, but by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Having pored through hours and hours of speeches and sermons, the right wing noise machine has teased out a few gems that are, Bill O'Reilly piously assures us, "offensive," "racist," and "anti-American." Among the statements quoted was this:

"The government gives [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes three-strike laws and wants them to sing 'God Bless America.' No! No No! God damn America for killing innocent people. God damn America for threatening citizens as less than humans. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and supreme."

Of course, this isn't terribly different from the pronouncements of any number of preachers prophesying that America's fall is imminent due to immorality, abortion, homosexuals and feminists. Remember, for example, the Rev. Jerry Falwell a few days after 9/11?

"I really believe," the late Mr. Falwell said, "that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'You helped this happen.'"

Does this mean I agree with Mr. Wright? No. It means that, on some subjects, he's as much an anti-American and a crackpot as Falwell was, especially when Wright starts raving about the government inventing HIV to kill black people and giving African Americans drugs. America's government may have made a massive botch of dealing with HIV and the drug problem, but it's tinfoil-hat stuff to claim they started it.

But here's the thing. After 9/11, it satisfied the Right and their media stooges for President George W. Bush to say he disagreed with Mr. Falwell.

But then, Bush is not a Democrat. It's not enough for a Democrat to disagree. He must deplore. He must disown. He must condemn, not only the statements of a supporter, but the person himself.

To his everlasting credit, Barack Obama refused to play that game.

In one of the most extraordinary statements on race I've ever read, Obama explicitly condemned the worst of Wright's statements, but then went on to say: "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.

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

I have to say, that last part really spoke to me. If you grow up in the South -- heck, if you grow up anywhere -- you most likely encounter mentors of all kinds who affect you and guide your life in profound ways. And yet, along with what they have to impart about loyalty, and hard work, and honesty, some of them are going to express views that make you cringe. All too often, those views have to do with race.

Part of growing up is learning to take to heart the teachings that you know to be right and leave the rest behind like the impurities skimmed off molten metal before it goes into the mold.

If I were running, and some statements of people I've loved, and who have loved me, came to light, I would disagree with them, yes. But would I disown the people involved? Would I condemn those people personally? No. That would be a betrayal. That would be to turn my back on the good in them and the kindness they've shown to me. That would make me less of a man.

Someone who can acknowledge the failings of someone who's been good to him, while not taking the politically easy but morally cowardly step of turning his back on that person or pretending they never meant anything to him -- that's the kind of character I want to see in a president.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am very scared when I begin to hear people that supported Obama a few weeks ago voice the idea he has too much baggage to defeat McCain. Or isn't tough enough. I feel like this has all been orchestrated by some Republican strategist somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Or worse than Mr Rove, Mr Penn and the Clinton machine. Either way it's not quite cricket.

Cornelia Read said...

I'd really like to have a president who didn't attend a church at which one needed tinfoil hats, for a change.

It's been a while.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Obama in the primaries, but I will not vote for him again. I'm sorry, but I don't trust or believe in him anymore. I have to vote with my conscience.

John McFetridge said...

"If you grow up in the South -- heck, if you grow up anywhere --"

Yes, anywhere.

Nice post.