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March 16, 2008

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All that said, I agree that Obama needs to go a few extra steps to distance himself. He did, after all, name a book after one of Wright's sermons.

Indeed he did, but that sermon is a beautiful one. Have you read it? Andrew Sullivan posted the text of it today:

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/03/for-the-record.html

Modern politics insists that we demonize anyone when they say even one thing that's objectionable to some segment of the population, instead of looking at their life of work. I think Obama realizes that this way of doing things is nonsense. Thus his choice to condemn the specific words circulating the airwaves but refuse to condemn the man.

Some great writing from this site on the Wright issue. I've been blogging about this topic on my site: http://swimmingfreestyle.typepad.com.

Excerpt from today's post:
I've blogged about the unbalanced scrutiny the media is devoting to Wright versus it's examination of John McCain's "spiritual advisor" Rod Parsley. I wonder if we'll see, on a future "This Week", video clips of Parsley calling for a holy war, a new Crusades, to destroy Islam and the panel discussing the implications for McCain's candidacy. Perhaps a debate of the political implications for McCain of John Hagee's hate filled anti-gay or anti-Catholic screeds. Or will we just crack them up as crackpot fundamentalist ministers and understand that these dimwitted views don't reflect John McCain's moral base?

Your post is thoughtful and well-informed, and you clearly have the better of the argument.

Of course, politically speaking, it doesn't matter.

From the perspective of the GOP, this is something they can throw out there at Obama. The scarier and blacker they can make him, the more he can be painted as some sort of Farrakhan and Willie Horton all rolled into one, the better for them.

The question is whether people who buy into that would ever have voted for Obama to begin with. I hope they're just the 27-percenters, but I don't know.

Has Senator McCain's pastor commented on the Rev. Mr. Wright's sermons? Does McCain even have a pastor? He doesn't strike me as a religious kind of fellow.

Of course, politically speaking, it doesn't matter.

exactly. there is no higher authority handing out points to the person who gets the logic right. politics isn't about logic. it's about emotion. actually being right isn't as useful as being able to convince voters that you're right - or that the other guy is wrong. horribly, fatally, wrong.

John in Nashville: I read somewhere -- but I can't remember where -- that people were having trouble figuring out who McCain's pastor is, since it's not clear where he goes to church.

Beg to differ a bit, Cleek, re not logic but emotion. At least barring a qualifier.
To the degree it’s spectacle and circus, accuracy is perhaps incidental. And Rove, Limbaugh and the rest of the clowns assuredly agree.
In the classical elevated terms of discourse, though, it’s (all together now) the Art of Compromise. Art is not on this case opposed to science or logic. It’s a matter of fine judgments and balance and fairness for which close reasoning is essential.
Justice seen to be done doesn’t exclude justice in fact being done. The fundamental political ideal is justice for all.
Unless there’s no hope.

Agreed that many of the extreme Religious Right pastors the Republicans associate with are worse, but they never get called on it (at least, not very hard).

I think the reason why lies in the same reason those pastors are way, way scarier than Wright. Both are pretty much dead wrong and say offensive things, but when Wright spouts nonsense, about .05% of America is nodding along with him. When someone like Parsley, Hagee, Dobson, or Robertson spouts hate-filled nonsense, about 25% or more of America is nodding along.

That's what makes them truly dangerous. There are plenty of nutcases in the world, and plenty of people who have never made even a passing acquaintance with facts. But it's those who can tap into deep-rooted currents of hatred and psychological mindsets - Right-Wing Authoritarianism, End-Times Fundamentalism, bigotry against minorities - who are actually dangerous, not just wrong.

Trinity is a big important African-American church in Chicago, and Obama was planning on being a politician representing these communities.

Paging the IRS agent on duty – Agent Smith, please pick up the white (damned, racist again) courtesy phone…

More and more this strikes me as less of a church and more of a political organization. In fact based on what we have seen lately I don’t know how they manage to retain their tax status. Is that just me?

It's also absurd that Obama is getting exponentially more heat for Wright than Bush got for certifiable lunatics like James Dobson. The distinction is pretty clear -- Obama attended Wright's church and doesn't consult him for squat.

How about Romney essentially being called on to denounce his entire religion? Not just specific remarks – but the whole damned thing?

BTW - Apparently Wright has been scrubbed from Obama’s web site.

Hey, as far as I'm concerned, you can yank the tax-exempt status of all churches. I'd be all over that.

How about Romney essentially being called on to denounce his entire religion?

Instead he turned around and backhandedly denounced atheists. Clever, that.

Also, Wright says a lot more positive things alongside the negative, like the 'Audacity of Hope' sermon linked to above. His issues are born of an understandable grudge born out of very real historical persecution, oppression, and bad experiences. Even if that then carries beyond facts and is immune to seeing progress or making comparisons, it seems more an expression of time, place, and experience than something deep and independent of them, like many of the hardcore RR preachers' lunacies, which are part of a long strand throughout history and across cultures seemingly independent of any justification. Although I'm sure there are some, it's pretty hard for me to name many really good, right or inspiring things those men have said.

And Romney was called upon to denounce his entire religion primarily by the same Religious Right people we're complaining about associating with other candidates. He got some grief from the left for his church's racist past, but as I recall that wasn't near as much of an issue (especially in the Republican primary) as the attacks from the right. So I think that supports the point, not refutes it.

For OCSteve on churches and tax exempt status:

I was raised Catholic and quit considering myself Catholic when I was in college. I tried Unitarian Universalism for a while in mid-adulthood for a mix of reasons, and left it again a few years later for another mix of reasons, one of which was that the church was more of a social/political activist club (in which I didn't fit at all) than a spiritual home base. I suspect I would have this reaction to many UU congregations, and not only UUs as far as that goes. Do you think Wright is the only preacher who has touched on politics in sermons, or that his congregation is the only one that involves itself in activism of various kinds?

Think again.

"Obama was planning on being a politician representing these communities."

In DFMF, Obama puts his joining the church before he went to law school. I don't know that he had specifically political ambitions at that time. Maybe he did, but he didn't actually enter politics until considerably later.

He was, however, working for community organizers who were working with churches, and felt the lack of a church of his own.

JanieM: Do you think Wright is the only preacher who has touched on politics in sermons, or that his congregation is the only one that involves itself in activism of various kinds?

Not at all. I’m with Phil here. Yank the tax-exempt status of all churches (and let G*d sort it out).

Trinity is a big important African-American church in Chicago, and Obama was planning on being a politician representing these communities.

But when you want to be a politician that represents the whole country, the kind of hate-filled sermons that appeal to that congregation, don't appeal to the vast majority of Americans. I'm tired of the Wrights, Robertsons, and Hagees. They all use religion to sanctify their hatred. It's time to stop making excuses for them.

I respect the John Hagees of the world just like I respect the Iranian Mullahs. Both endorse successful societal models that have been handed down through the centuries. If you are going to follow a religion, you should follow its teachings, not the teachings that you would like it to have.

Men have hijacked belief systems for their own purposes since the beginning of time. The Rick Warrens, Jeremiah Wrights, and ‘moderate’ Muslims of the world are the one’s who shouldn’t be trusted. They are misrepresenting the world’s great religions for their own political purposes.

Paging the IRS agent on duty – Agent Smith, please pick up the white (damned, racist again) courtesy phone…

OCS, then what did you think about Huckabee's comment that Republicans need to stop taking advantage of churches that provide all the manpower for their efforts?

LJ: what did you think about Huckabee's comment that Republicans need to stop taking advantage of churches that provide all the manpower for their efforts

Concur. IMO, the whacky “religious right” was in the driver’s seat as my party pushed the pedal to the metal heading for the cliff in their “Thelma and Louise” moment.

Its interesting to me that it seems to be very important to many of you to explain away Obama's relationship to TUCC and Rev. Wright. You can't. Any black person with any kind of political consciousness and desire to belong to a vibrant activist religious community in this city will want to belong to TUCC. Why? Because the church is an institution and a force to be contended with in this city; that's because Wright has provided the kind of leadership on black community empowerment and built a constituency that does not just talk justice, but makes collective action a key part of its work and identity. This kind of radical political work by black churches is unparalleled in the US, comparable only to the work that Allen AME and Abyssinian does in NY. Any person who knows anything about the role of churches in community and city politics in the US would know to ask, and even assume, without being told in the memoir or on ABC: Was Barack Obama a member of TUCC?

To me, the true injustice of all this is the way that the work of the church is being maligned by people who clearly have no vested interest in the health of black communities. But, that won't stop TUCC. Barack may suffer for it, but there's one thing that won't ever change, and that's the church's mission and work on the south side of Chicago. Maybe this is an opportunity for you all to learn a little more about how black people continue to make a way for themselves, Barack or no Barack.

publius, you're a joy to read, but I'm not buying this one. Wright is a reverse racist. And I don't want such racists (or sexists or heterosexist) in an influential position in Obama's campaign. good riddens.

OCSteve,

I don't understand what sort of problem has occurred that necessitates the IRS. Can you please explain?

Claiming that people are sleeping through Rev. Wright's sermons destroys the credibility of this post. Believing that means that the writer really has not watched the videos. The crowds in those videos are cheering like they are at a football game. I doubt if anyone is sleeping through them.

The crowds reactions also means that the church members believe the same as Rev. Wright. So, Senator Obama would really have to claim that he never discussed race with any church members to maintain his claim that he did not know.

More like, Senator Obama believed that what is said in front of an all black audience would stay within the "family" and would never come to light to his white supporters.

Actually, I'm in complete agreement that the church as a whole is a very positive force and that churches like it play an extremely important role in black communities that otherwise get very few services. This is actually the reason why I'm somewhat divided on allowing federal funds & organizations to work with "faith based" charities: the faith based groups are often the only effective institutions in the areas we most need to help. But then, the likelihood that the funds would actually go there, instead of to white evangelical churches with a primary focus on 'redeeming' gays, is pretty low (although I understand white evangelical churches in some of the poor rural areas are often also involved in good community projects).

But just because the church as an institution is good and does good work doesn't in any way mean Wright is correct or deserves approval of his comments just because hes its leader. I think the US government as an institution is overall a substantial positive, does good work, and has roles to play; that doesn't mean I remotely agree with or approve of its current leader, George W. Bush.

Well, at least people no longer think he's a Muslim.

I remember when I decided I wasn't going to attend my liberal church anymore. It was back in 2002 when my preacher spoke out against Israel. It was in what I think was Israel's bleakest hour when every week it seemed like there was yet another horrific suicide bombing. And to hear Israel being blamed for 9/11, well that was too much for me. There were other people in the congregation who were equally offended, well I know that some kindofJewish people also dropped out of church at the same time. I think preaching against Israel was a popular thing to do at the time, a lot of denominations, Presbyterians, Church of England, World Council of Churches, etc, had pretty similar points of view.

Ara- You haven't reconned with Republican's ability to believe 7 impossibly stupid things before breakfast.

Steve, wouldn’t you say that the church was to a degree suckerpunched by the Rove/Norquist bunch? And now the monster is without its master it’s tearing up the yard? All in the name of hardball politics?
I remember hearing DeLay giving his last Terri speech on C-Span and him just oozing and dripping the most loathsome hypocrisy. Just sucking up to the worst sort of bile from the god bottle. Seems your party home was suffering from some defectives in high places. Blatant moral defectives in fact. And you know, I think that hypocrisy was wholly heartfelt.
...
Long, I’ll go on record as your having settled the issue with clarity, power, and grace. The dignity you evoke in your community stands extraordinarily tall among the toilers with lowered eyes.
In fact it seems clear that Obama has indeed been nurtured by his church and that it is indeed his church home, the source of his distinctive spiritual sustenance. I think you’ve given us a key to the mystery that’s preoccupied this estimable site the whole weekend. Simply, what is the deal with Obama and this church (thing)?
One so-far unstated component of my estimate is a video of Obama addressing the Sojourners in 2006. Sojourners is a church based in DC that’s been dedicated to issues of justice, mercy, and peace since the early ’70s, and Obama spoke to them as equals in a common struggle. He spoke of how he joined TUUC because of its community, slowly coming to realize something more was possible, and gave his assent, and was led to Jesus by the Rev. Wright.
As I say, I think his church is an important key to who he is. I think too that it is another mark of his integrity that He has remained faithful to the commitment that led him to TUUC in the first place and that found nourishment there. The video

"More and more this strikes me as less of a church and more of a political organization."

May I humbly run the suggestion by you that perhaps you, when you get a bit of spare time, spend a couple of hours reading up on black churches, OCSteve?

And I'll have your babies if you do this: rent or Netflix or whatever the first two disks of Eyes On The Prize, and watch them. Thanks!

"Eyes On The Prize"

Which, let me say, I find gripping and powerful, not dull and dry, but mileages vary.

"How about Romney essentially being called on to denounce his entire religion? Not just specific remarks – but the whole damned thing?"

Were Obama supporters doing that? If not, the relevance is?

Hilzoy: "He was, however, working for community organizers who were working with churches, and felt the lack of a church of his own."

In fact, it's a huge point in all the pieces about his life at that point that, in fact, he found himself stymied at getting credibility in Chicago's South Side until he found a church to join.

It's not my impression or understanding that he was particularly set on a political path at that point -- I'm inclined to think that it was at most in the back of his head, but what do I know? My mind-reading suspenders are still at the shop -- but it seems fair to say that there seems to have been some degree of "this is an important thing for the people in the community I want to organize, so it would be good to be involved in that important thing, myself," And then, if not previously -- and, again, who am I to guess at someone's spiritual life? Jeez, I'm an atheist -- he seems to have clearly found some spiritual appeal in his church and faith.

For more, why not read his books. OCSteve? They're not painful.

I still agree with the people who think Wrightgate is not that important. I think it may serve as an excuse for those who allready were very reluctant to vote for Obama. But I think publius' comparison is not entirely right. Obama *did* give Wright a position in his advisory committee, did he not? That goes beyond just attending his church.

"Well, at least people no longer think he's a Muslim."

Don't be silly. Barack Hussein Obama is a communistic Muslim al Qaeda sleeper agent terrorist plant of the Trilateral Commission/international bankers and the Jews, who pretends to be a Christian as cover, and because he's an American-hating militant black revolutionary Black Muslim socialist who is going to be steamrollered by the Republicans he secretly reports to about the al Qaeda operations they plan, which are tricked into doing by the Democrats, who are Masons, and behind the movement in wheat prices and gold.

Pay attention, please.

Ara:Well, at least people no longer think he's a Muslim.

The nutters have found a way around that with extra bonus points.
1. He is a Muslim because of his ancestry (aka the "born a Jew, always a stinking Jew" argument).
2. He is a bad Muslim because he converted to Christianity (i.e. he is a stinking apostate).
3. In-between he was an atheist.
Conclusion: He is a godless religious flip-flopper and a racial Muslim apart from being a [n-word].

I don't know how to torture logic enough to explain why he is also an antisemitic Jew and a Hindu(!) but there are enough people with an advanced degree in doublethink to do the job.
What we need is a dedicated shamanist running for high office ;-)

Ah, I love the smell of equivocation in the morning.

Turb: I don't understand what sort of problem has occurred that necessitates the IRS. Can you please explain?

Exemption Requirements

In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

Wright – from the pulpit:

“There is a man here who can take this country in a new direction…”

“Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people … Hillary would never know that.”

“Hillary ain’t never been called a n*****. Hillary has never had a people defined as a non-person.”

“Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain’t! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was riding dirty.”

That seems pretty cut and dried to me. And there is video so it would be pretty tough to contest. Somewhat ironically, the last church to actually have its tax exempt status revoked publicly opposed Bill Clinton in 92.


Gary: Were Obama supporters doing that? If not, the relevance is?

Start with Mr. Sullivan.

I’m just objecting to the apparent double standard Gary. We’ll never know exactly how large a factor Romney’s religion played in his defeat. I don’t like the man and I’m glad he is out of the race, but I did not agree that he had to somehow be accountable for the more objectionable bits of his religion’s history.

For myself, religion should be a personal issue and it shouldn’t even be part of any election. I don’t care if you believe in Wicca if you can do a reasonable job of running the country.

That seems pretty cut and dried to me.

me too. and i have no doubt it'd be trivially simple to find parallel statements made in favor of conservative candidates at evangelical churches.

we need either to start enforcing the ban strictly, or get rid of it altogether. or, get rid of the tax-exempt thing...

Though this controversy may cause short-term pain for Obama, it could help him in the long run, because many low-information voters who are only now going to start paying attention will suddenly realize, "Oh wait, he goes to a black Christian church in Chicago? Oh, I guess he's not a scary Muslim after all."

Men have hijacked belief systems for their own purposes since the beginning of time.

As if belief systems aren't a product of men to begin with? Every world religion has evolved since its inception, and pretty much without exception every major religion quickly schismed into different denominations that at the very least emphasized different aspects of the central teachings. No belief system so complicated can possibly be completely consistent.

As for Wright, he seems like a whackjob. To be fair, nothing in Obama's record or public demeanor indicates that he shares the good reverend's more extreme opinions. But it is a bit hypocritical for the left to slam McCain for Hagee when Obama's attended this guy's church for so long.

GH - you are a nut! Keep it up!
Felix - thanks for the video.

OCSteve et al - in a way you are right; the kind of analysis that is offered by Wright - and is criticized by fellow churchmembers and other Af. Am - is dangerous. Why? It refuses to engage in the polite discourse that is so much a part of public life. And that polite discourse is what sustains the notion of what it ok to think and to say when it comes to naming the real forces that are working against us. Polite discourse shuts most of us up as we equivocate about what to say that won't make you feel bad or guilty or complicit. Polite discourse allows folks like you to come up with terms like "reverse racism" and "reverse discrimination" and those of us who don't agree struggle over what words and strategies to use in our response. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking away, and our silence allows your bullshit apologist position to prevail. When we can all get our knickers in knot about the kind of vitriolic violence preached about queer folks from the pulpits, and the 5-year long war waged simultaneously against Iraqi people and the gutting of the public education system in our cities then we can talk. Until then my dears, black church folks like Wright will not shut up. Hallelujah!

Only hypocritical,xeynon, if we think Hagee and Wright are equally bad. You think so. I do not. Wright is a nutjob on some things (HIV) and he's over-the-top in typical preacher fashion on others, but I'd feel comfortable going to his church. Hagee disgusts me on every level.

In fact, I'm more inclined to slam Obama for not dealing with Wright's statements the way hilzoy did in her part 1, but I understand that's probably expecting way too much of the electorate.

if we think Hagee and Wright are equally bad. You think so. I do not. Wright is a nutjob on some things (HIV) and he's over-the-top in typical preacher fashion on others, but I'd feel comfortable going to his church. Hagee disgusts me on every level.

I find Wright's positions a bit more offensive than you do, perhaps. But even assuming Hagee is worse, remember that he's just a guy whose endorsement McCain accepted. McCain does not worship at his church, didn't write a book titled after one of his sermons, and has never held him up as a guiding force in his personal spiritual development. All of these things are true of Obama and Wright. Even if Wright stinks a bit less, Obama's closer to the source of the odor.

I think Long Bench hits on the key that differentiates Wright and Obama: Wright's rhetoric (or the small bits presented) refuses to engage in polite discourse. In other words, it's divisive. The contrast is captured in the difference between the Sermon and the Book that share a title.

The more I learn of what Wright said that was supposed to be objectionable, the more I scratch my head.
He said that 9/11 was due to our foreign policy? No kidding. I can't believe we still have to take the position that the US was sitting home, doing nothing fp-wise, and were mysteriously attacked. I absolutely abhor the people who attacked us, I disagree with them on every level but I will take them at their word for the reasons. Every foreign policy will delight some and alienate others, and pretending that the fact that Americans are nice people with good intentions should be enough for the rest of the world is no basis for one.
He said that soldiers in Iraq were dying in a war based on lies, and that oil was a large part of the invasion? Again, we seem to agree that the justification for war involved massaging intelligence, ignoring intelligence, etc, to a degree that many are comfortable laying "lying." And I certainly remember the op eds about how this war would actually be a net gain, because of oil revenues, and when members of Congress (including Clinton) tried to make the reconstruction of Iraq a loan, to be repaid with interest from those oil revenues.
He denounces the US gov when he's angry about its policies.
A lot of people do this. On both the left and the right. Again, what he says is really not that different from what I hear from the right-wing preachers.

Much of what he's saying is rhetoric that isn't new. It's phrased in an incendiary way as the capstone of a sermon, not to start an honest and nuanced and respectful dialogue, but I'm not sure where that argument is supposed to go. Obama wants to start that dialogue; what Wright wanted in these speeches--4 minutes out of a life--isn't at issue.

"Start with Mr. Sullivan."

Andrew Sullivan is certainly an interesting man and blogger, and I enjoy reading his work since he's so unorthodox. But he's so far from any substantial base of Obama supporters to make this 'example' totally meaningless. It wouldn't be quite as bad as citing something Rush Limbaugh said as an example of "Clinton supporters" because he urged people to vote for her in the primary (since he believed it would help the Republicans in the general election) but it is pretty far off base from what is usually menat by "Obama supporters". A better example might be someone who supports the Republican candidate in 2008 because they prefer divided government and gridlock (some do; I might agree if the Republicans hadn't screwed things up so badly & if certain certain issues didn't need quick solutions opposed by the Rs). Sure, they support McCain, but their reasons and other positions are so radically different from 99.9% of McCain's supporters that it's dishonest to cite them as examples.

"I’m just objecting to the apparent double standard Gary. We’ll never know exactly how large a factor Romney’s religion played in his defeat."

I object to double standards being held without good reason, too, OCSteve, but for a double standard to be held, it has to be held by the same people, not two separate sets of people.

How many people who didn't vote for Romney because he's a Mormon were Democrats?

How many? And if they were Democrats -- which is to say, the overwhelming majority of Obama supporters -- what the heck do the anti-Mormon bigots of the Republican Party have to do with them, and why are you blaming people -- "Obama supporters" as a whole -- for a position only some maybe single digit percentage of them hold?

Is that very fair, or accurate?

Ah, I see Daniel Merritt already ably addressed this. What he said.

Just for the record, all I can say is that anyone who finds Wright's opinions unusual must know absolutely no African-Americans over the age of 50, and have absolutely no familiarity with African-American culture of any sort, and pretty much no idea of African-American history of the past fifty years, and have no clue about what it's like to walk around America today with very dark skin.

I realize this observation is impolitic, and I'm not trying to insult or offend anyone, but sometimes there's little dancing around a thing.

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