Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama & Reverend Wright

Barack Obama's minister, Rev. Wright, has points of view that certainly warrant debate. On most points, Christians of many stripes would agree with his position: for example, that racism still exists across America. On other points, agreement would be more difficult to reach: for example, that 9/11 resulted from America's actions in the Muslim world. Having listened to many of the video clips now circulating, I'd say that Wright's points of view are not outrageous even if they may not be mainstream opinions. The problem is the way he makes his points. What works with his congregation does not work with our country in general, and Obama, his friend and parishioner for 20 years, cannot escape his association with Wright.

Personally, I'm not concerned about Wright's influence on Obama. They are black men from different generations and backgrounds, and they see the world differently while still being friends. Like Obama with Wright, I have friends born one generation before me who live with outdated views that they internalized as young people. We are friends, but I cringe when their innate bigotry comes out in conversation. These people still live in the world of their youth and they don't even realize the implications of what they say. This, it seems to me, is part of the problem with Wright; he doesn't see that the world has changed around him. He's still fighting the battles of the 1960's with 1960's rhetoric. Since Obama's public record does not show him agreeing with Wright on the controversial issues, I continue to support Obama unequivocally. Unfortunately, I do not represent the typical American voter, so I think Obama is in trouble due to Wright.

The problem with Wright that cannot be avoided is that his church allowed him to go far beyond accepted norms in his public sermons, and then compounded the error by videotaping his excesses. The image Middle America gets from these tapes will be hard to erase. Obama started with a tough assignment - convincing white America that a black man can be mainstream enough to be an acceptable president. Wright's behavior raises questions about how mainstream Obama really is. Obama's opponents will use every means to ensure these questions stay in the forefront, and Middle America surely will be influenced. Those older friends of mine, people who before this weekend may have given Obama some consideration, likely see him in a different light due to Wright. What flies in an urban black Chicago church does not fly in Middle America, and these people recoil from the venom and what they see as a lack of patriotism. They ask, "Why would Obama stay close to this man and stay a member of a church that allows this kind of talk?" Obama's judgment comes into question, right on top of the race question. This is trouble, and it's got to be addressed successfully or Obama may be history.

It might be tempting for Obama or his surrogates to compare Wright to McCain supporters Hagee and Bob Jones or some of Hillary Clinton's more outspoken supporters. This will not work. Obama will have to state his case straight out. He needs to ask the question, "Do you have friends that you don't agree with?", and then he needs to say, "Well, so do I. Reverend Wright is a good-hearted man who loves the Lord, but he's been wrong about some important things. This is where we disagree... I still love him, but he and I see America much differently." Obama will either successfully separate himself from Wright in Middle America's mind or he will not be in the White House next year. That's the way I see it.


ThomasLB said...

I would be interested in knowing who was behind that clip becoming public, and why it became public at this particular time.

I have a hunch it was dirty tricks by the Clinton machine, but I suppose it could have been McCain, since Republicans see Hillary as the easier opponent.

Either way, it's the "politics of personal destruction," something all of the candidates profess to abhor.

Dave said...

Profess is the operative word Thomas.

Given the lack of honor among politicians, I'm interested in, one, why Obama had not diffused this before it became widely public; and, two, why his campaign was not immediately ready with a response along the lines you, LF, suggest.

I suppose there are a million details; but, you'd think this one would be one of the ones he's thought about before.