Archive for March 19, 2008

   He has made racially charged criticisms of Hillary Clinton and suggested that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 showed that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost”.

   He has said that the U.S. government created AIDS to kill black people. He has said this in church to his flock on Sunday mornings.

   He has said that the Government “wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’ ” despite treating black people as second-class citizens. “No, no, no,” he said, “God damn America!”

   He has stated that Zionism is an element of “white racism” in the world.

   He is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and he has said all of that and more in his fire and brimstone Sunday sermons and been met by cheers, applause and choruses of “amen” by his enthusiastic flock. He was the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, a church that is race exclusive in its origins and says that it’s members, “are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.” (http://www.tucc.org/about.htm)

   He is also the long time friend of Barack Obama who is himself a long time member of TUCC. And there is the problem.

   The controversy has been building now for almost a full year. The early stabs at creating a career ending controversy were taken by pointing out the church’s doctrine and focus on race. These attempts were met with a round of yawns and disinterest by most. This was understandable as spokesmen for the church went on the various chat shows and explained that the concepts that were creating so much controversy were merely expressions of the idea of the black community lifting itself up, addressing its own problems, taking care of itself and taking and teaching responsibility for itself.

   To tell the truth, I didn’t really have a problem with that explanation or the concept being espoused. That’s a good message for everybody to hear. But that’s the kind of message that, in some quarters of the black community, can only be given to blacks by blacks. If a white outsider to the community came in and said the same thing, even if it was truly a heartfelt attempt to help the community, there would be some who would close their ears to the message based purely on the color of the messenger. So, again, I saw no real problem with it.

   Then the videos started slowly coming out. In these videos was Rev. Wright making the statements from above and others and being cheered for every word by his massive congregation. After a few months of this building, Obama finally decided to address the issue. Obama alerted the press that he was going to be giving a speech on the situation related to the Rev. Wright’s comments, Obama’s long standing friendship, described by both at times as an almost father son relationship, with Wright and Obama’s long membership in Wright’s church.

   That moment came, as of the time of this writing, yesterday. In the 24 hours since then, countless talking heads have discussed and dissected the speech and praised it for its bold, honest and frank take on race relations in America. They’ve talked long and hard about how masterfully Obama personalized it by pointing out that he could no more disown Rev. Wright than he could his white grandmother or the black community. But they’ve all but failed to discuss one major issue with the speech. It didn’t truly address Obama’s choice to stay in a church where that mindset and sentiment existed for as long as he did and continues to do.

   See, my problem with this is that most people choose the groups that they wish to be with based on shared interests and beliefs and common ideals. From little fluffy hobby stuff to major lifestyle choices, people look at what they’re getting into based on what they themselves feel, believe or enjoy. People who are bored to tears by chess don’t join a chess club. People who hate Star Trek don’t join a fan club devoted to all things Trek. If you can’t stand football, you’re not going to join a club or buy yourself front row season tickets. People who don’t believe in God or organized religion rarely decide that they need to join an orthodox church. People who don’t believe in racially hateful speech and ideals don’t, or shouldn’t, join a group that espouses those ideas and cheers them when they’re loudly given voice.

   Obama says that he’s never heard the Rev. Wright saying these things from the pulpit before. I find that a little hard to believe given what others in the church have said. I also find it a little hard to believe having seen the videos of Wright’s more controversial comments from the pulpit. One would think that the congregation would react a little differently if their reverend just shifted out of the blue from reading the gospels to damning America, talking about how whites don’t get it and proclaiming that America’s evil deeds came home to roost on 9/11.

   But give Obama the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Obama says that he has never heardWright say these things from the pulpit. We’ll go with the scenario that Wright never said these things when Obama was attending church that Sunday or at least waited for Obama to step out to the men’s room to spew the hate. Even then, there’s no way that Obama could not have heard ofthose sermons. There’s no way that he couldn’t know that they existed; especially since he’s admitted knowing that Wright held these personal views.

   And that’s again, my problem here.

   I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be a member of a church where the reverend and the congregation held extremely hateful or racist views of blacks. I’ve walked away from organised churches before because the views being espoused and rejoiced in by the members were hateful towards Catholics, Jews, other races, etc. Anything that is that important a part of your life, the symbol of your faith, cannotbe a poisoned tool of hatred against an ideal you hold dear. For me, you can’t separate the two things. You can’t hold the specific church of your faith as a representation of your values but then claim that it’s not.

   Had Obama done something more to address the actual issue that has been building the controversy, then I might have felt different now. Had he said that it had been a case of a church changing over the years or even Obama breaking from the church entirely… Maybe that could have been better. But Obama’s speech was basically one giant smoke and mirror trick where he told everyone to stop talking about his questionable decisions and poor choices and to talk instead about the county’s.

   It doesn’t help the matter of my gut feeling that sometimes Obama is selling an image of something other than what he is. I’ve never felt that he was hiding anything other than inexperience before, but now I’m not so sure. As Hillary’s critics like to say, there’s a pattern here, real or imaginary, that seems to be adding up to something less than what I want to see in a Commander in Chief.

   Obama doesn’t like to wear little flag pins and other symbols of “hollow” patriotism. Obama has an occasional history of not placing his hand over his heart and reciting the pledge or the national anthem when others around him are. Again, like the early issues about his church, they’ve rolled off most people’s backs. It was minor, petty and trivial stuff. I agreed at the time.

   Obama’s wife had a nice foot-in-mouth moment when she told Obama supporters at a February 2008 rally, “let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” It ran the news cycle and was written off as a slip of the tongue. I agreed at the time.

   But does this most recent development change the meaning of those things. Does it put a new appearance on Obama’s decision to eschew the displays of patriotism if the church he attends has sermons that call on God to damn America? Does it make Michelle Obama’s remarks about a country that is described by her church leaders as hateful and lacking in understanding towards blacks seem less innocent and more racist?

   Right now I’m not 100% sure, but my gut wants me to lean in that direction. Other people’s guts may lean differently.

   But let me ask you this question. Would you, if you’re cutting Obama slack on this, be so quick to do so if the races were switched? Let me give you a hypothetical.

   A white cop shoots and kills a black man one night. The cop says that he saw something suspicious going on, told the subject to stay where he was at and the subject spun around with what looked like a weapon in his hand. That’s all you know about it. That’s all you need to know about it.

   Now, the press does some digging and discovers that this white cop is a member of a white church that entertains sermons about how the black man is of inferior intellect, violent tendencies and, thanks to the mark of Cain (black skin according to some white supremest churches) upon them, criminally inclined. Do you think that you or the people who are excusing Obama’s church going decisions are going to just write that off? Do you honestly believe that the white cop would get away with claiming that he goes to the church but doesn’t really subscribe to the beliefs espoused by the reverends and cheered by the congregation? Do you honestly believe that he would still have a job after those revelations were aired in the cable news cycles even if every investigation into the shooting showed that it was 100% justified? Would you even risk a penny on a bet that every single black leader that is now defending Wright and Obama wouldn’t be demanding the firing of the white officer and jail time irregardless of the facts?

   Now that is an extreme example. But I don’t really have to look that long and hard to find a two much more analogous examples that exist in real life. Their names are Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

   Before Giuliani dropped out of the race, he got lambasted by the voices on the left for, amongst other things, receiving an endorsement from Pat Robertson. The criticism had to do with Robertson’s insane comments about how America brought 9/11 on itself by offending God and other likewise deranged comments about asteroids, tornadoes and hurricanes.

   I agreed with those criticisms.

   John McCain has been blasted for eagerly accepting the endorsement of one John Hagee. Hagee runs a controversial church where he has preached that the Catholic Church is “the great whore” of Christianity, nutty 9/11 beliefs, God caused Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans to prevent a gay pride parade and the idea that America must support and protect Israel so that, when the time of prophecy comes, God can smite Israel from the face of the Earth and send all the Jews to Hell. Hagee is, quite bluntly, a nutjob.

   I agreed with those criticisms.

   But, oddly, the people who attacked Giuliani over Robertson and are still attacking McCain over Hagee, let alone attacking Hagee himself, are the first people to explain why this is different than that and to give Obama a pass. They’re the first to explain at length why Obama should be admired for his stand on this issue while turning around condemning McCain for the Hagee situation.

   And they are right about something. They’re right that the Obama/Wright situation is different than Giuliani/Robertson or McCain/Hagee. Giuliani and McCain merely accepted questionable endorsements that they shouldn’t have. Obama calls Wright a friend, a father figure and a leader of the church that Obama has been a long time member of. Giuliani, McCain and Obama have all said that they don’t agree with everything that their three religious supporters have said in the past. But of this group, only Obama has made the church of the speaker of hatred his long time church.

   I criticised Giuliani and McCain. I’m not going to give Obama the same pass on the matter that so many hypocrites have. Obama cannot treat this matter as a done deal and dead issue to be put behind him.

   I’ve said since before Iowa that I wasn’t a big fan of anyone in this election cycle’s field. I’ve said any number of times that I had no clue who I could bring myself to actually vote for. None of them made me very happy. I can say one thing with certainty now though.

   I cannot vote for Obama. I despise racists and racism of all colors. Right now, I have very big questions about what is truly in the hearts of Barack and Michelle Obama. Obama had a real chance to address the personal issues that mattered here. Not only did he basically refuse to truly address those issues in his speech, but he basically told us to stop talking about it when it pertains directly to him and Wright.

   I hope, I sincerely hope, that my gut’s misgivings are wrong. I hope, I sincerely hope, that matters change by November. As it stands now, Obama is the likely Democratic nominee. If it’s him and McCain, I can’t vote for McCain and I’m not looking forward to the idea of not voting at all.

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