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.