When it comes to the connection between Barack Obama and his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright — or to John McCain’s various positions on whether criticizing Obama for his relationship with Wright is fair game — my head is spinning.
At first, the Obama defenders said Jeremiah Wright doesn’t speak for Obama. Not only have Obama’s ill-wishers taken Wright’s statements out of context but they have unfairly imputed those statements to Obama.
Next, we witnessed the beginning of the Jeremiah Wright rehabilitation tour. He appeared on Bill Moyers’ show, endeavoring to present himself as a calm, reasonable person whose statements had been twisted against him.
Then he spoke at the Detroit NAACP dinner. Forgive me if I have a different take than most Wright critics, but I read the transcript of the Detroit speech in its entirety and did not detect too much, if any, incendiary language.
Wright presented a rather innocuous talk about the differences in human beings and how our differences do not mean certain groups are deficient — "just different." His theme seemed to be that we should strive to overlook people’s differences and work toward reconciliation because we are all made in God’s image. Bravo. Who could object to that?
In his speech the next morning at the National Press Club, Wright continued with that theme, which was fine as far as it went. But alas, he couldn’t help dipping his foot a little further into the waters of controversy.
He touched on black liberation theology, revealing, inadvertently or not, that his religious views are formed through a racially tinted prism. He strategically characterized the recent scrutiny of his sermons as "not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," but "an attack on the black church." And he huffed that his congregation has sent dozens of kids to fight in this nation’s wars, while those who have called him unpatriotic have sent "4,000 American boys and girls of every race to die over a lie."
But these subjects were tame compared to his responses to the moderator’s questions following the speech, where Wright reverted — full bore — to the offensive themes to which we’ve been exposed recently.
In so doing, he undid the undoing of the damage he tried to undo with his two "reconciliation" speeches. In front of a large audience, he fatally undermined his recent protest that Obama’s opponents have taken his sermon utterances grossly out of context.
Among the highlights, Wright said, "In biblical history, there’s not one word written in the Bible between Genesis and Revelations that was not written under one of six different kinds of oppression." This, I suppose, is part of his justification for black liberation theology’s presumed reading of the Bible through the lens of race and oppression.
He also clarified his thoughts on reconciliation, plainly articulating that our "country’s leaders have refused to apologize" for slavery and "until racism and slavery are confessed and asked for forgiveness," there can’t be reconciliation. He mentioned nothing, of course, about the Civil War. He also indignantly stood by his statement "God damn America," saying, "God damns some practices."
When given an opportunity to retract or soften his statement that the government lied about inventing HIV as a means of genocide against African-Americans, he said, "I believe our government is capable of doing anything." And he strongly refused to denounce Louis Farrakhan, saying, "Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains."
In view of Wright’s elucidations, I find it difficult to understand how the candidacy of Barack Obama cannot be mortally wounded by his longtime, voluntary and intimate association with this man. How can Obama possibly preach national harmony, reconciliation and bipartisanship coming from this type of church culture — which Wright appears to say harbors an unforgiving spirit? Where else, if not from his church, are we to assume Obama gets his ideas on reconciliation?
But in the interest of that spirit of bipartisanship to which Obama claims to aspire, let me also confess that I can’t begin to comprehend John McCain’s regrettable condemnation of North Carolina Republicans for reasonably raising the Wright issue — which, by the way, is bigger than John McCain or his candidacy. Nor can I understand McCain’s belated halfhearted about-face on this subject.
The Rev. Wright is certainly entitled to his opinions, and he is certainly entitled to deliver them from his pulpit — tax questions aside. And John McCain is certainly entitled to continually bite the hand that feeds him.
But voters also have rights — and duties. Among them is their duty to decide whether they want to elevate to the presidency a man who can’t plausibly separate himself from the disturbing, toxic views of his own pastor.