The [Tuesday] Papers
UPDATE 1:52 P.M.: Geez, I fell asleep for awhile and woke up to what I think was Barack Obama making a total break with Jeremiah Wright. "The person I saw yesterday is not the person I met 20 years ago," he said. That claim will be tested, but . . . wow. CNN will replay Obama's remarks in their entirety at 2 p.m.
Plus, our very own Tim Willette reports from the campaign trail:
"McCain Seeks Tax Credit To Help Buy Health Insurance"
Sigh. You know, I haven't really written about Jeremiah Wright, and I was really trying not to, but here are a few thoughts.
* I don't much care about even the crazier things Wright says. This shouldn't be about Wright, it should be about Obama. But it's not about whether Obama shares Wright's views; that's looking in the wrong direction. (I'll get to what I think is the right direction shortly.)
* I also don't think this has anything to do with showing that Obama is not a unifier because some of Wright's statements are divisive. In fact, I think that's baloney. I think Obama is not a unifier because he has no genuine political track record proving he is, just a record that's been spun like cotton candy. But his church has nothing to do with it.
* I think Wright is obviously wrong when he says this whole imbroglio is an attack on the black church, but again, this isn't about Wright.
* I think Obama apologists are also missing the point. First, liberals have criticized conservatives for years for their religious associates. If John McCain's personal pastor for 20 years was Pat Robertson, I'm sure Obama supporters would heretofore have raised holy hell. As it is, McCain reportedly seeking John Hagee's endorsement is bad enough. But now that Obama's got a problem pastor, a lot of Obamaphiles are screaming that their man is being held to a new, unreasonable standard. Hogwash. Even Obama himself says it's a legitimate issue.
* So here's the right direction part: What bothers me about Jeremiah Wright isn't Jeremiah Wright, but how Barack Obama has, to use a cliche, thrown him under the bus. Now, bear in mind, I'm not defending Wright's more outlandish statements. But I've long thought that Obama's disinviting Wright from his presidential campaign announcement speech in Springfield was exactly the kind of calculating political move that Obama is campaigning against. This was the man who brought him to Christ! The man whose sermon inspired the speech that launched his presidential campaign! The sermon that gave a title and theme to a book that made Obama millions! He married you and your wife, baptized your kids. And you disinvite him from your presidential announcement speech for admitted political reasons? Where is the hope?
Now Obama edges ever further away from Wright; just like Tony Rezko and Bill Ayers, he suddenly barely knows him! Note how Obama now calls him "my former pastor." And does anyone believe that Obama was unaware for all of these years what Wright was about? That contradicts the very reason why Obama disinvited Wright from his Springfield speech. Now, though, Obama says he would have left the church had he known what his personal spiritual advisor of 20 years was really like (even as his campaign released a photo of Wright at the Clinton White House to prove . . . something, just like they sent out that meet-and-greet snapshot of the Clintons with Rezko.)
We now also have a lot of "journalists" advising Obama on how to "get past" Wright and solve his political problems. I'm still trying to figure out just when journalists decided their job was to act as campaign strategists.
I'd really rather all this attention be focused on the Rezko trial and Obama's actual record and political relationships in Illinois, which is of far more import. (And for the record, what bothers me about Ayers in terms of Obama is that it seems to be another instance of Obama's opportunism in seeking the right political connections at the right times to advance himself that undercuts Obama's claim to the moral authority of a different kind of politician practicing a new kind of politics.)
* Obama's wish that Wright would go away also undercuts his Philadelphia speechifyin' about a dialogue on race, because that's mostly what Wright is talking about. Curiously, Obama is not saying, "Bring it on!" Maybe that would actually be a better way to engage blue-collar white voters - who are adults, after all - instead of going bowling. Maybe what voters still reluctant to support Obama want to know, in part, is where he stands on affirmative action, hate crime legislation, reparations, rap videos, and the disproportionate number of blacks who are impovershed or imprisoned. (I happen to believe their concerns are economic, not racial, but he's going to have to address this stuff at some point, especially given Wright.) What is his agenda? You may be able to "transcend" race, but you can't transcend the issues.
* I would prefer the kind of straight talk - a teaching moment, if you will - that Obama engaged in earlier in the campaign when he explained why he thought wearing flag pins had become a cynical exercise that had nothing to do with real patriotism. That was one of his best moments of the campaign, but that kind of talk has eluded him in the crunch.
It might have been nice - and more productive - if, instead of engaging in ever thinner permutations of what sermons he had heard and when, and what degree of denunciation and disowning he is willing to do, Obama simply told us what I suspect to be the truth: Wright is a brilliant preacher and church-builder who has been one of the most influential people in Obama's life, and when Wright would launch into his crazy talk, well, that's sometimes what people do, and we love them anyway, and it's better to have that conversation than shut it down and divide ourselves. Reveal what conversations they did have. I'm sure Obama never believed any of the wacky stuff - and listen, I don't believe the federal government created the AIDS virus, but at one point in time it was a valid question to ask, though not specifically to kill black people - but he also might have thought it wasn't his place to argue with his pastor.
In other words, just tell us the truth, because there is a sense - like with Rezko - that we really haven't heard Obama's genuine thoughts.
Then again, maybe I'm giving Obama too much credit to start with. "And when a reporter asked if Obama was a regular churchgoer," the Tribune editorial page says today, "Wright retorted, 'He goes to church about as much as you do.'"
The truth is, we still don't know exactly who Obama is. And that's why it's not a good idea to elect obscure state senators to the presidency on the strength of a convention speech and a platform of "hope," no matter how bad the last seven years have been.
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Posted on April 29, 2008
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