Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama and Wright

Much has been made in recent days about the crazy remarks made by Obama's pastor and "spiritual leader," Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ron Paul, and many others, Wright blamed 9/11 on the U.S. Then he gave a speech, in 2003, with the following quote:
The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people...God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

He also accused the government of lying about creating HIV "as a means of genocide against people of color." (If I believed that, I'd be saying God damn America, too!)

I think there are two questions here. First, do these moments offer a representative sample of Wright's body of work? And second, what does it say about Obama that he looks up to and supports such a man?

To answer the first question, I'd say they don't. Obama's critics have used the fact that he adapted the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope, from one of Wright's sermons to demonstrate how strongly Obama has been influenced by Wright. But if you actually read Wright's "Audacity to Hope" sermon, you'll find nothing like the inflammatory comments I mentioned above. It's all about hope and prayer and God and family.

(I wrote about my feelings regarding Obama's religiosity here, for all those wondering why this Jewish Atheist supports someone as profoundly Christian as Obama.)

Now to the more important question. What can we learn about Obama from his association with Wright? First, does Obama agree with Wright's inflammatory statements? All evidence is that he doesn't. For longer than he's been a national politician, he's eloquently and passionately pushed for understanding and unity rather than the sort of racial divisiveness endorsed by Wright. He's strongly denounced Wright's comments on several occasions. And everything about his tone and message is exactly the opposite of Wright's, when Wright is on his craziness.

So what's the deal with his supporting Wright? He's continued to be a member of his church, continued to call him his spiritual adviser, and continued to donate money to the church of this guy who is at least partly crazy and divisive.

I think the answer lies in Obama's most unique quality -- his ability to see the good in everybody and everything. This is the man who implores us to understand our political opponents, the man who preaches unity and an end to divisiveness, the man who constantly seeks common ground, the man who has won over the unlikeliest of opponents on several bills (e.g. his bill requiring the taping of police questioning in Illinois.)

I think that Obama took what he liked from Wright -- the inspiration, the message of hope -- and simply set aside the rest. Recently, he has described Wright as "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," and that strikes me as perfect. Who here doesn't have a racist parent or grandparent or uncle that they generally look up to and want to be like, other than that whole racism thing, and maybe their views on gays? How many of my Orthodox readers look up to rabbis, past and present, who believe things as offensive (racism, homophobia) and crazy (young-Earth creationism) as Wright does?

Simply put, there is no evidence that Obama agrees with any of Wright's craziness, and lots of evidence that he does not. That he can support such a character and draw so much from their friendship and spiritual relationship while so fundamentally disagreeing on such important issues speaks to his unique ability to understand and form meaningful relationships with people he doesn't see completely eye-to-eye with.

Many of us, especially many of us bloggers, prefer not to associate with people that say things we strongly disagree with. I know I couldn't attend a group whose leader said the kind of things Wright does. In general, I'd be pretty wary of people who did. People like us tend to be either blind followers (like many of my religious readers and Dawkinsites) or else ideological loners (like me and a few others that haven't found a box they could wholly subscribe to.) We've had far too many blind followers in positions of power, and people like me couldn't get elected because we aren't comfortable being part of a group we don't completely agree with, and it shows. Obama is the rare kind of person who can both be of a community and apart from it. I think that's exactly the kind of person that America needs right now as president.

17 comments:

Ayin said...

Makes sense:
http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/03/balko_on_obamas_pastor.php

"Do we really need to start digging up all the nutty things Christian right pastors have said in sermons over the last 20 years? I seem to remember Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell & Co. blaming 9/11, Katrina, and all sorts of other calamities on the gays, the womyns, and Grand Theft Auto. And yet GOP politicos still pilgrimage to the doorsteps of these idiots to seek their blessing. There are plenty of things for which one could criticize Obama. That his pastor says things rational people find silly only puts him on par with 90 percent of the rest of Congress."

More importantly, it puts him on par with every single Republican candidate for president - especially McCain, who has actively sought the approval of many religious right leaders who've said absolutely insane things. He went to give the commencement address at Liberty University even after Falwell famously blamed 9/11 on gays and the ACLU. He's still refused to back away from Rod Parsley, who he has called his "spiritual mentor," for his many absolutely insane statements on a wide range of issues.

And to make things worse, we know that McCain knows all about those crazy statements. Why? Because he's cited them himself. Back in 2000, when he was running as a moderate and trying to distinguish himself from Bush, he declared Falwell and Robertson to be "agents of intolerance" on the basis of such crazy statements. Now that he needs the support of the religious right, he's frantically kissing the ring of every loony preacher he can find.

Jeremiah Wright has said many objectionable things. There's much there to criticize. But religious right followers are the last people who should be using such an argument. And here's the big difference: Jeremiah Wright has no discernible influence or power, while the likes of Robertson and Dobson carry enormous influence and power.

G said...

Recently, he has described Wright as "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," and that strikes me as perfect. Who here doesn't have a racist parent or grandparent or uncle that they generally look up to and want to be like, other than that whole racism thing, and maybe their views on gays?

--You don't pick your family...you do pick your friends and the people you choose to associate with.

How many of my Orthodox readers look up to rabbis, past and present, who believe things as offensive (racism, homophobia) and crazy (young-Earth creationism) as Wright does?

--True enough...and how do you feel about said readers looking up to said people?

He likes the guy, okay...He feels a sense of gratitude to the guy, I understand...but there is such a thing as being loyal to a fault.

Just take a look at the movie you quoted from in the previous post. Mike McD escapes his complete downfall only by finally, probably far later than he should have, cutting Worm loose. Sometimes in life you need leave things behind in order to acheive your desired goals...sometimes just to acheive survival.

G said...

First, do these moments offer a representative sample of Wright's body of work?...I'd say they don't.
---------

That is such a bogus litmus it's embarrassing; "his body of work", please!.
Nobody is saying the man is Farrakhan, but let us be reasonable...Say something once and you're making a statement Say it twice and it's part of who you are.

Jewish Atheist said...

G:

Exactly. It's part of who he is. It's not all of who he is.

Jewish Atheist said...

And more importantly, it's not the part that Obama looks up to.

G said...

Cop-out answer.

Now I don't vote so who cares but that speech was equal parts scary and weak.

asher said...

That's right and Mussilini made the trains run on time in Italy..so what that he was a facsit.

However, I was a card carrying member of the JDL and never once hear Rabbi Meir Kahane say anything derogatory about Arabs or Palestinans. I just saw Rebbi Kahane as a holy man who brought great joy to many people and was very helpful to his community. He brought me closer to judaism and I consider him a mentor and advisor before he was gunned down, in cold blood, by someone.

Holy Hyrax said...

What a bunch of crap.

Replace the word "Wright" with Pat Robertson

and "Obama" with Bush or a McCain.

Then lets see if you are so understanding and willing to give those people the benefit of doubt you are giving Obama

G said...

Exactly. It's part of who he is. It's not all of who he is.
-------
Fine, allow me to rephrase:

Do or say something once and it is making a statement...Do or say it again and it is who you are until you prove otherwise.

Jewish Atheist said...

asher:

Are you being sarcastic about Rabbi Kanane? I can't tell.


HH:

Maybe. Maybe I'd be wrong then.


G:

I'm not defending Wright; I'm defending Obama.

tommy said...

I think the issue is less Obama being able to see the good in everyone than Obamaniacs being unable to see the bad in Obama.

Who would have guessed that in 2008 "I smoked, but I didn't inhale" would finally emerge as the left's favored slogan?

Simply put, there is no evidence that Obama agrees with any of Wright's craziness,

Except:

1) 20 years of attendance, including years of bringing his children to Wright's church.
2) The title and dozens of pages in his autobiography devoted to Wright.
3) Generous financial contributions to his church.
4) A spot for Wright on his campaign even though he knew what Wright was all about.
5) An inability to completely distance himself from Wright even in the wake of the media circus surrounding him along with continued excuses for Wright's behavior.
6) Barack and his wife's not especially patriotic behavior fits well with people you would expect as regular attendees of Wright's "God damn America" church.

and lots of evidence that he does not.

That evidence consists of his own empty words -- words kind of like "hope" and "change" -- uttered after Wright's extremism became undeniable.

Here is another example of Obama seeing the good in everyone: in this case it's Don Imus. Mind you, he said all this about Imus while his odious pastor sat on his campaign. And Obama is such a wonderful guy he threw his own grandmother under the bus even as he dug up every excuse he could for Jeremiah Wright's lunacy. The Messiah is obviously more offended by the off-handed comments of shock jocks about "nappy-headed hos" than Wright's jubilation over 9/11 or his demonization of whites. He also seems more offended by his grandmother's behavior than his pastor's.

Obama is a hypocrite. It's that simple. While he may not have agreed with everything Wright said, he has been more than tolerant of Wright's shenanigans. He has also tried to pull a fast one on the public as to the extent of his knowledge of Wright's radical politics. That makes him dishonest as well.

Still, I suppose we can all hope liberal apologies for Obama will translate into greater tolerance of whites who choose to run in racially intolerant circles. As AllahPundit put it today, "Here’s a blank check to white racists to join the restrictive country club of their choice because, after all, they can no more disown white racism than they can the entire white community[...]"

G said...

I'm not defending Wright;

--Maybe, maybe not...but he sure is so...

I'm defending Obama.

--...it really amounts to the same thing.

Jewish Atheist said...

tommy:

You provide evidence that Obama is connected to Wright, not that he agrees with the craziness. Your comment completely ignores my entire point that Obama takes the good and leaves the bad.

He has also tried to pull a fast one on the public as to the extent of his knowledge of Wright's radical politics.

I'll concede there might be some truth to that complaint.

Still, I suppose we can all hope liberal apologies for Obama will translate into greater tolerance of whites who choose to run in racially intolerant circles.

Did you read/hear the part of the speech when Obama talks about blue-collar whites and their feelings about affirmative action and stuff. I was thinking that you and the whole Sailer/2blowhards crowd might really be understood by a liberal politician for the first time with that, if you give him half a chance.


G:

Do you not see the distinction between looking past someone's crazy views and defending them? Obama has strongly denounced the crazy without repudiating his pastor as a man. It's not that subtle a point. Rashi was a racist -- does that mean you wouldn't defend him as a person/sage?

Jack said...

I find this to be more than troubling. I can look at Wright's comments and try to place them in context, but it doesn't last.

The America of his youth is nothing like the America we live in today.

At some point you stop calling yourself a victim. Wright is shameful and Obama's failure to truly call him on the carpet is very disturbing.

They're not acquaintances, they're more than that.

You don't just let these sorts of statements go.

G said...

Do you not see the distinction between looking past someone's crazy views and defending them?

--In theory yes, but it all depends on how "crazy" the view doesn't it?

Obama has strongly denounced the crazy without repudiating his pastor as a man.

--Given the definition of the "crazy" in this case I do not feel that distinction is possible.

It's not that subtle a point.

--You're right, it's fairly straight forward.

Erachet said...

I think the answer lies in Obama's most unique quality -- his ability to see the good in everybody and everything.

But is this such a good thing? Is it a positive trait to overlook such enormous negatives in order to pay more attention to the positives? What if the negatives really do outweigh the positives? It just seems to be really naive, in a potentially destructive way. Sure, it's harmless now because Wright hasn't actually done anything except make statements. But if Obama became elected President and Wright started having more power and influence than he does now, things could get pretty ugly. I wouldn't want someone in office who associates and looks up to someone like Wright, even if that person claims to ignore the ugly parts. You can't ignore them forever and people do becomes subconsciously influenced by those they look up to.

Erachet said...

Additionally, on a broader scale, what kind of President is one who is constantly overlooking the bad in things? I think the negatives are something that must be weighed VERY carefully before making a decision and taken into high consideration, too. If there are enough negatives, even if the positives slightly outweigh them, the decision might be a bad one. But someone who is SUCH an optimist that he refuses to recognize the bad in a person or a situation, who can't tell the difference between friend and enemy, well, I don't want that person running my country.