Last week I posted an item on Barack Obama and his minister, Jeremiah Wright. The point of the piece was as follows. Obama has ran a campaign that is long on aspirational rhetoric about hope and change and very short on what that hope and change means. (I'm not talking about what you can find stuck on a website; I am referring to the campaign's messaging.)
In addition, he is, for a presidential candidate, a person of remarkably little prior national exposure and astonishingly little Presidential caliber experience. (And, yes, this description could also be applied to George W. Bush in 2000.)Unlike, say McCain, Clinton and Giuliani, we don't know him very well. (And, yes, I agree that we don't know Romney or Huckabee all that well either.)
In light of that - and because this is an election for President and we are entitled and obligated to understand those who want the job - I blogged that it was appropriate to ask Obama to clarify his relationship with and, more importantly, his understanding and evaluation of the views of Jeremiah Wright.
I said it was appropriate because Obama himself has said that Wright has been very influential in his life.
Wright is an Afrocentric Christian minister in the mode of black liberationist theologian James Cone. Cone has championed a view of racial reconciliation that tends to be more separationist and focused on grievance which, in his view, must be addressed in particular ways before reconciliation is possible. (At least for the most part, Martin Luther King held a differing view.) My sense is that Wright generally shares Cone's view and his praise for Louis Farrakhan reflects that.
Obama's messaging is far from this, but we generally don't allow candidates to define themselves without critical examination. It seems useful then to ask Obama what he thinks about his pastor's more radical views. Not because Obama is black and we have to assure ourselves that every black candidate is not Eldridge Cleaver in MLK clothing, but because he himself has directed our attention to Rev. Wright.
The MJS excerpted this post for the Best of the Blogs and, because it was a long post (imagine that on S & S!) had to edit it heavily. What remained was fair but couldn't convey all of the nuance.
This prompted at least one caller to Eric Von's show to wonder if I am a racist. I don't see where that comes from, although I am certainly willing to clarify and hope that I have.
But I think that the Obama campaign - and those who support him - would be playing a dangerous game if they yield to the temptation to characterize criticisms of or challenges to the candidate as racist.
My Backstory colleague Dave Berkman (who I have grown to be fond of, notwithstanding politics frozen in amber since 1965)succumbed to the temptation during last night's show. Obama, in his view, has answered all questions about Wright and has kicked him under the bus. Therefore, the only explanation for raising the issue is racist.
Now, I did spend some time looking at news articles about Wright and Obama before I posted. I know that Obama has said that he has disagreements with Wright and decided not to have Wright introduce him at his presidential announcement. I do not know that he has explained, in a way likely to come to the attention of large numbers of people, just how he reconciles his own presumably kinder and gentler view of unity with those of his spiritual mentor.
Perhaps he has and I missed it, but this is not an unreasonable question. When you proclaim yourself to be devoted to unity and to getting past historic divisions, you ought to expect people to ask you what that means. Cone's view of unity is quite different than King's and these differences might matter to some people.
As I said, it could be that Obama really has addressed this in a way that I would find satisfying. Maybe I am being unfair to Rev. Wright. I am willing to listen to those who think so.
But to be told that even asking the question is racist or, as one local blogger put it, places one in the category of those with no souls is beyond the pale and exactly the wrong way to get your guy elected.
In this country, given our racial past, you can always use race to shut people up. They will back off, but they won't like it. If they perceive that you are using race to fend off what they see as legitimate nonracial questions, they will respond by disengaging from you so that you can no longer use this weapon against them.
I think that, at least to some degree, Obama understands that and is trying hard to avoid it. There are times when I wonder if the Clinton strategy is to move him away from that - to goad him into playing the race card against their attacks and thus redefining him as the "black candidate" with a limited appeal.
If that's so, they truly are some evil geniuses and those who are playing the race card in defense of Obama are playing right into their hands.