As a number of people have pointed out, it's very odd that people like Tim Russert assume that Barack Obama is under some sort of obligation to denounce (and
refuse reject!) Louis Farrakhan, but John McCain can accept the support of John Hagee, who has said that "I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans," without anyone but us lefty bloggers so much as batting an eye. And Hagee wasn't the only evangelical given to hateful comments with whom McCain campaigned during this week alone:
"McCain also campaigned in Ohio this week with Rod Parsley, a television evangelist who leads a group called the Centre for Moral Clarity. McCain called Parsley — who has suggested that adulterers should be prosecuted and compared members of the abortion-rights group Planned Parenthood to Nazis — a "spiritual guide"."
I think Glenn Greenwald is right: it's about race.
"White evangelical Ministers are free to advocate American wars based on Biblical mandates, rant hatefully against Islam, and argue that natural disasters occur because God hates gay people. They are still fit for good company, an important and cherished part of our mainstream American political system. The entire GOP establishment is permitted actively to lavish them with praise and court their support without the slightest backlash or controversy. Both George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent formal greetings to the 2006 gathering of Hagee's group.
By contrast, black Muslim ministers like Farrakhan, or even black Christian ministers like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are held with deep suspicion, even contempt. McCain is free to hug and praise the Rev. Hagees of the world, but Obama is required to prove over and over and over and over that he does not share the more extreme views of black Ministers."
But it's even stranger than that. The two cases are different, and different in ways that ought to make McCain have to denounce Hagee a lot more than Obama had to denounce Farrakhan. Before Farrakhan ever announced his support for Obama, Obama was on record denouncing his views, and in particular his antisemitism. Obama did not solicit Farrakhan's support, appear with Farrakhan, or put out press releases announcing it.
If someone vile -- some white supremacist, for instance -- endorsed John McCain without McCain having solicited the endorsement, and after McCain had criticized that person extensively, that would be analogous to Farrakhan endorsing Obama. I think it would be insane to demand of politicians that they denounce anyone who endorses them under such circumstances. Perhaps if there were some unclarity about their views, a statement would be useful. But in a case in which it's perfectly clear that the candidate in question flatly disagrees with the person who has endorsed him, I can't see that that's necessary.
But Hagee's endorsement of McCain wasn't like that. McCain didn't just happen to be endorsed by Hagee; he appeared with Hagee at a joint press conference when that endorsement was made:
""I'm very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement today," McCain said at a news conference. "He has been the staunchest leader of our Christian evangelical movement in many areas, but especially, most especially, his close ties and advocacy for the freedom and independence of the state of Israel.""
That's very different. The real analog to Hagee's endorsement of McCain, I think, is not Farrakhan's endorsement of Obama; it's the flap over Donnie McClurkin, the gospel singer who " has detailed his struggle with gay tendencies and vowed to battle "the curse of homosexuality,"", and who was invited to participate in some Obama events in South Carolina. The comparison is instructive.
In that case, a lot of people rightly demanded that Obama clarify his views, and he did:
""I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.
I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.""
Compare that to McCain's statement on Hagee yesterday:
"Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee's views, which I obviously do not.
"I am hopeful that Catholics, Protestants and all people of faith who share my vision for the future of America will respond to our message of defending innocent life, traditional marriage, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society."
Moreover, Obama has not only been unequivocal in his support of TBLG rights, he has taken that message to the black Christian community. At the Ebenezer Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Day:
"For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.
And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.
We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity."
And in Texas:
"An interesting moment came when he was asked a question about LGBT rights and delivered an answer that seemed to suit the questioner, listing the various attributes — race, gender, etc. — that shouldn't trigger discrimination, to successive cheers. When he came to saying that gays and lesbians deserve equality, though, the crowd fell silent.
So he took a different tack:
"Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday," he said, to a sudden wave of noisy applause and cheers.
"I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian," he said, and the crowd seemed to come along with him this time."
(I also have to link to Obama's recent letter to the TBLG community, which is, among other things, strong on transgender issues. As always, though, Obama is opposed to gay marriage.)
When John McCain preaches tolerance of gays and lesbians, or of Muslims, or of any of the other people Hagee hates, before an audience of evangelical Christians, I will be impressed. I will also be very surprised.