Blogs > HNN > Obama's Mealy-Mouthed Reaction to His Pastor's Venom

Mar 19, 2008 5:12 am

Obama's Mealy-Mouthed Reaction to His Pastor's Venom


Senator Barack Obama’s response to his pastor’s anti-Americanism is mealy-mouthed and disingenuous. It is impossible to believe Obama’s claim he was unaware of this dimension of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s preaching. Actually, if handled more shrewdly – and honestly – both the Reverend Wright’s venom and Michelle Obama’s unpatriotic comments could highlight one of Obama’s great gifts to America. Obama has tasted the bitterness of black life, but emerged with a song in his heart, and a deep, constructive patriotism. His initial failures to respond nimbly and honestly to the complaints about his demagogic pastor suggests he may be afflicted with advancing political sclerosis – the paralysis that hits successful candidates, especially insurgents, as they get ever cagier and more cowardly, forgetting the bold message that first fueled their success.

Barack Obama’s reverend – and mentor – Jeremiah Wright is a spell-binder. The video clips of Wright’s preaching capture a demagogue working his audience masterfully. Someone who continually calls America, “the U.S. of KKK-A,” someone who bombastically, but lyrically, repeats that he would not say “God Bless America,” but “God Damn America,” someone who chose the Sunday after 9/11 to condemn American foreign policy, is not a casual America-basher. Clearly, his ministry has played to African-American anger, demonizing whites, and blasting America as an oppressor at home and abroad. Consider his now-infamous Sunday sermon on September 16, 2001, as the fires at the Pentagon and at Ground Zero still smoldered. “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Wright shouted. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens” – he exclaimed triumphantly, channeling the black radical Malcolm X -- “are coming home to roost.”

Consider Barack Obama's mild reaction to these ugly declarations. Once he needed to distance himself from the pastor who officiated at his wedding and baptized both his children, Obama compared his spiritual leader for nearly two decades to a crotchety old uncle. Obama also tried suggesting that regarding 9/11, Wright was simply being"provocative" - which is not the role of a man of the cloth entering a house of mourning. Most recently, as the appalling video clips spread, Obama released an eight paragraph response on the Huffington Post Blog repudiating Wright's remarks and is preparing a major speech on race today (Tuesday, March 18).

Alas, Obama’s carefully parsed statement was downright Clintonesque. “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. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments.” Let us take the good Senator at his word, and assume we will not soon be watching videos or still photographs date stamped “9/16/2001” showing Obama sitting in the church, or, even worse, videos of Obama clapping and laughing to one of Wright’s I-hate-America riffs. Still, only denying what occurred as he sat in the pews, lays a thicket of facts that gives the appearance of specificity while issuing a smokescreen of denial. Obama is smart. He knows that fair-minded Americans are wondering why he did not condemn the Reverend’s remarks when first uttered, or ever walk out on one of these harsh sermons – which the Reverend and the church were so proud of, they peddled on videotape. Moreover, did Obama ever argue with his “old uncle” as many of us do with older relatives or preachers who say something offensive? Obama’s lawyerly statement makes one wonder, did anyone mention Wright’s hateful analysis of 9/11 to Barack Obama, at the time an Illinois state senator? Or was this tirade so typical of Wright’s worldview that it did not generate much attention? Either scenario is damning – and suggests Obama failed when he waited until now to denounce these views.

It is easy to see the simplistic equation attack ads will make: Wright’s wrongheaded views plus Michelle Obama’s recent exclamation that for the first time in her life she was proud of her country equal proof that Barack Obama is no patriot, and not presidential material. The truth, however, is more complicated, and disturbing.

The Reverend Wright thrived at Trinity Church not despite these views but partially because of these views. The African-Americans who have flocked to hear Reverend Wright’s sermons – and have “Amened” his denunciations of America -- reflect the fury many African-Americans feel. Michelle Obama’s comments show that even many blacks who “made it” to the Ivy League, still feel disenfranchised – and bitter. This was the topic of a Princeton sociology senior thesis from 1985, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” written by Michelle Robinson – who married a fellow Harvard lawyer named Barack Obama seven years later.

Since the 1960s, such black anger at America has not impeded advancement in the American meritocracy. America-bashing among those who most benefit from America’s bounty has become quite trendy. The white liberal elite circles in which the Obamas travel would echo Michelle Obama’s comments about not feeling proud of their country – even if some would find Reverend Wright’s venom unnerving.

This background is what makes Barack Obama's rhetoric and message so extraordinary. His 2004 convention speech marked the national debut of a fresh voice who refused to indulge in African-American anger toward America and rejected Ivy League cynicism. He promised to cross the racial divide, blur the red-blue divide, heal the anger, end the cynicism. In that spirit, when reporters asked him about Reverend Wright, Obama should have said,"Yes, I've lived with that anger, I've confronted that anger, I've overcome that anger." And wouldn't it have been great, if Obama could also have said - honestly, before any of these video clips spread -"and I want you to know that seven years ago, with no thoughts of running for President, I confronted my pastor, saying he needed to teach about love not hate, about hope not recriminations."

Obama’s political rise has been launched on the wings of Americans’ hopes that the healers will defeat the haters. His continued political progress would be more assured if he could point to actions backing up this rhetoric, to strong stands he has taken against divisive demagogues. Barack Obama is not too young to have had the opportunity to prove whether he stands by his statements. Americans have the right to ask what he has done when confronted with the world’s Jeremiah Wrights and Louis Farrakhans – and to be disappointed if only now, under the gun politically, is he pretending to have the backbone he needed in the past – and will certainly need if he wins the election.

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More Comments:

Lorraine Paul - 3/22/2008

I cannot believe that some of the educated(?) and informed (?) people on this site would have sensibilities so delicate that they call a few strong words about the state of their nation...America-bashing!!

You don't need censorship in America, you self-censor!

R.R. Hamilton - 3/19/2008

Don't forget Harold Ickes and Sid "Vicious" Blumenthal. I think I heard they're both back working for the Clintons.

On Ickes:

On Blumenthal:;ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLR,GGLR:2006-14,GGLR:en&q=sid+vicious+blumenthal

Robert Lee Gaston - 3/19/2008

Come now Mr. Glen. Surely you remember the team of Dick Morris, James Carville, Rahm Emanuel and Paul Begala! It Ain't beanbags

Robert Lee Gaston - 3/19/2008

Come now Mr. Glen. Surely you remember the team of Dick Morris, James Carville, Rahm Emanuel and Paul Begala! It Ain't beanbags

Robert Lee Gaston - 3/19/2008

This is an interesting comment. First, accuse someone of an ad hominem attack then call them a bigot. How very progressive.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama, like all our candidates, has not put forth too many ideas to criticize. So, we are forced to take measure of the man. Mr. Obama kept interesting company in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Reverend Wright and Mr. William Ayers (former boy terrorist) represent the kind of trendy anti-Americanism Mr. Troy was speaking of. And it is usually considered fair to judge a man by his social and political associations. That’s why our mothers tell us that we are judged by the company you keep.

So, all we are left to judge is the man, or maybe the empty suite.

R.R. Hamilton - 3/19/2008

I happened to be out driving yesterday and was switching between talk radio stations. On the left was Randi Rhodes(sp?) who thought Obama's speech was the greatest since Jehovah said "Let there be light!" On the Right was some guy who thought the speech doomed Obama's campaign. I agreed with a black guy who called the Rightwing show: It was the speech of a politician.

Another caller said the speech satisfied Obama's base. The more interesting question is if it would satisfy the moderates and independents that McCain can appeal to -- and, indeed, will it satisfy the superdelegates of the Dem Party Convention?

Andrew S Ward - 3/19/2008

Gil Troy's response to Barack Obama's speech isn't worthy of HNN. I cannot remember ever hearing a major public figure more eloquently and thoughtfully embrace the contradictions of American life, or the corrosive effect of American racism on both black and white than Barack Obama did in yesterday's speech. It was the greatest speech since Martin Luther King's "I have a dream," which I heard from the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Everything in Obama's career has been directed toward reconciliation and justice, which can only come from facing up to the contradictions inherent in every aspect of human life. If a right wing ideologue like Troy mistakes ambiguity for hypocrisy and this most reasoned and decent of men for a hypocritical, closet Afro-Centrist ideologue, Montreal is welcome to him.

Richard E Edwards - 3/19/2008

Jeremiah Wright is a prophetic preacher. He is highly regarded across the ecumenical Christian spectrum for his incisive and compelling proclamation of the word of God, with particular relevance to Black Americans. It's a great shame Obama is compelled by political necessity to distance himself from words that hold so much profound truth. Why must he do so? Because the great majority of the American people are scripturally ignorant and religiously uninformed.

It's a still greater shame that a learned commentator like you, Mr. Troy, cannot appreciate great preaching when you encounter it. Perhaps you think the god "Our Nation" is a greater God than the Creator who judges and redeems. Jeremiah Wright doesn't make that mistake, nor does Michelle Obama, nor, I hope, does her husband.

Michael Glen Wade - 3/19/2008

Well, you may be right because the Republicans are certainly not above this kind of stuff, as we all know from watching Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and the detritus of what passes for conservative thought in our country.

Tim Matthewson - 3/19/2008

Do we see the beginnings of a McCain victory in '08 in Wright's shrill comments and Obama's reaction to them? Does the GOP now have technicians working on attack ads blending the images of Wright, Obama, and Sadam Hussein? If so victory will go to the GOP.

Annie E Mann - 3/19/2008

Senator Obama's speech was excellent for many reasons. Rev. Wright is one of the several sermons that I have recorded for well over a year. I have never seen any of the clips or sound bites on display to the public. Therefore, these must be clips from at least 6-7 years ago. Senator Obama really spoke to his biracial background and the experiences he was/is able to have from both blacks and whites first hand. He is not without love for any race because he has seen the anger from both races. I am like his wife Michelle. For the first time in my life, I am proud of my country for at least in some aspects of judging Senator Obama by his character and not the color of his skin because he is brilliant. He did not do poorly in school as some of the news commentators who have denounced his minister. If you review the characteristics of gifted children such as Senator Obama, you will find that they do not concentrate upon the concrete failure characteristics that the news commentators such as Hannity, O'Reilly, and Colms portray on the gossip news channels. His character is love for everyone, service to his country, respect for every culture, and a commitment to a lifetime of solving problems that is destroying our country. None of the negative news commentators have not done any of the grassroots services because they want quick money from the gossip stations whom they speak for to reach millions of people who need jobs and education to support themselves and their families. In other words, theses news people such as yourself and others are taking millions of people away from what they need to survive or have a better life in this world - the opportunity to have a job and education. An example of your hostility towards Senator Obama is John McCain's wife has not stopped being the person she is because her husband who is reported to have extramarital affairs. However, your tone towards her and her husband is with kindness and forgiveness. Also, Bill Clinton continues to speak with negativity about the blacks within this society. He never spoke in public with negativity about blacks during either of his campaigns for President because he did not have the competition his wife has with Senator Obama. I am glad I did not live in his hometown because it is a known fact that he chased and harassed every woman in sight, blacks included.

Kenneth Laurence Davis - 3/18/2008

Has 'America bashing' become quite trendy among bankers and fat cats? I didn't know. They are the ones reaping the bounty, or should I say 'booty', from our 'meritocracy'. No investment banker left behind.

Nothing tires me like the self-congratulatory, self-satisfied, self-delusional attitude of the American Patriot.

Latham Stack - 3/18/2008

Gee Gil, there's very little reasoned, well-thought-out, analysis of Obama's politics in your blog. Ad hominem attacks, some extremely vituperous, seem to predominate.

Perhaps you have a hard time following his complex thought processes? Or are you one of:
1. Those who are not familiar with what he has done, i.e. ignorant?
2. Those who are threatened by him, i.e. afraid?
3. Those intolerant of someone who is different, i.e. hateful?

Curious...these are the same traits that make a bigot!