John Armstrong’s blog is one that I always look forward to reading. He’s a wise and thoughtful writer and I particularly appreciate this post of his from a few hours ago, Barack Obama and Racism: How Should Christians Respond.
One of Obama’s strongest appeals has been his good sense of judgment and his ability to unite us as a people. This is both noble and commendable. If people question his judgment for keeping a very close kinship with someone who was asking God to damn America, which Wright says in one of these widely-seen video clips, then how will Obama respond? What will he say when the press, and the GOP, pours on the heat in the coming months? And if he wins election how then can he unite us? These are very hard questions for Senator Obama and will plague him I would guess. I pray he will find grace and wisdom. Again, he may be able to respond well in due time. He shows the ability to speak with candor in very convincing ways.
I said this in a comment on one of my posts earlier in the week. I find the myth of Obama very attractive. Like many I want the myth to match the reality. It never does. I do not believe Obama is a racist. (He’s a biracial man who was raised by his white mother and white grandparents.) I do believe the best of him – as far as one can believe the best of any politician.
Regarding his friend and former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright – I do not believe most white Americans are in a place to understand the racial pain and anger that Dr. Wright allowed to enflame his sermons. We have never experienced that pain. I do not condone what he has said in the sermons that have been "discovered" nor do I condemn him for them. He is my brother-in-Christ. I have never walked a mile in his shoes.
I am not suggesting that his race gives him an automatic pass. This situation does, however, force me, as a white North American male, to recognize the power I put on by nature of my gender and the lack of pigmentation in my skin. And the casual, unthinking way I exercise that power and freedom speaks volumes about the world we live in. As a ridiculous but all to common example, I’ve never been stopped for a DWB – a Driving While Black. Would that all the people of colour I know be able to say the same thing. May God have mercy on all of us.
UPDATE: After pointing to John’s post and adding a few of my own thoughts I went off to bed last night. I woke up early this morning thinking about this and spent the first hour of the day reading the news (from multiple sources) and thinking about this issue. Here’s what I’ve come to:
I think Barack Obama still has a good chance of winning the Democratic nomination. But assuming he does win, I believe the rhetoric of Dr. Wright will insure he loses the national election. No matter his denunciations and denials, Obama is too easily tied to his pastor. (And to what is unfortunately easily read as a Black separationist 10-Point Vision of the church.)
For Obama to suggest he never heard the sermons is a little disingenuous. He certainly must have at least heard about them. I was an active congregation member from the time I was 26 until the last 18 months – a little more than 25 years. I know the active lines of communication that exist in churches. I may not have heard all the controversial sermons preached in those congregations – but I certainly heard about them. And my church experience is in both predominantly white and predominantly black churches. If, as Obama states, he was an active and connected member of Trinity United Church of Christ then surely he was aware of his pastor’s impassioned turns of phrase.
When one adds the two degrees of separation from Louis Farrakhan for Barack Obama, I’m afraid there is much too much ammunition for his opponents in the national election. And trust me, they won’t spare any of it.
The respected conservative writer, Victor Davis Hanson, says this,
…if one were to collate the reverend’s views on what his congregation should think of the United States, and, further, his writs against Americans as “selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant” with Michelle Obama’s own astounding statements that hitherto she had no pride in the United States, and considered America “just downright mean," and Americans “guided by fear" and (in the words of the New Yorker profiler) who summed up her views as ‘we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents’ the echoes are eerie.
Without sounding dramatic, I think his campaign has seriously underestimated the effect of the Wright tapes on the average American voter (again, the problem is not just the transcript, but the delivery, most notably its fury and coarseness), and the senator’s own abject inability honestly and forthrightly to explain the close relationship of the Obamas to Reverend Wright, apologize for such a lapse of judgment, and move on. His advisors are culpable here, and apparently in their spin have no clue that they are making things worse rather than better.
In the increasingly bitter struggle between Clinton and Obama, you can be assured that the Clintonites will hang on to this story like our one year old spoodle hangs on to her toys. It may be enough to lose Obama the nomination – but if it doesn’t, it will certainly be enough to provide the GOP with all the tools necessary to defeat him. Even with as unattractive and awkward a candidate as John McCain.
Dr. Wright’s rhetoric is the ultimate Obama myth-buster. And for those of us who long for reason to hope, it is profoundly sad.
UPDATE 2: I’m not sure this helps. There’s also good discussion happening in the comments.
UPDATE 3: To those of you who think this is going to pass, read this post from Doug Groothius (a regular blog read of mine – even though I often disagree with him) who links to this post – which is an example of what will be used constantly against the Obama campaign. She repeats these no standard talking points – the no-flag-pin-in-lapel (true) and the no-hand-over-heart-POA (I believe it’s false).