Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wright's Righteous Rage
The Washington Post offers this selection of "greatest hits" from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's longtime pastor at his Chicago church.

(At this point, upon reading the link, you're supposed to swoon, faint, and be revived with smelling salts. I'll wait. Ready? OK.)

Obama is taking all kinds of fire for this guy and his "inflammatory" statements, even after responding in print yesterday. I hadn't watched any video of Wright until seeing this earlier this afternoon, and a colleague of mine at the office yesterday, whom I asked about this, said that you really had to see the clips to appreciate why people are getting bent out of shape. Fair enough--though now that I have seen Wright in full boil, I still absolutely don't get what the big deal is. I'd submit that any intelligent and educated African-American man of a certain age, in a position of responsibility within his community, is likely to feel the anger that Wright expresses over the question of race in America--and justifiably so! Is he over the top? Perhaps. But he isn't wrong.

I also watched this lengthy clip of Obama talking with Keith Olbermann last night about the Wright (and Tony Rezko) controversies. I think he sounded the proper note:

Reverend Wright represents a generation that came of age in the ‘60s. He is an African-American man who, because of his life experience, he continues to have a lot of anger and frustration and will express that in ways that are very different from me and my generation. … Part of what we’re seeing is a transition from the past to the future. I hope that our politics represents that future.”

Obama admits that he'll see Wright's sermon clips again, most likely in ads produced and paid for by independent 527 groups, if he wins the nomination. He repudiates the sentiments, but not Wright (who is retiring) himself. And he adds that he hopes to use Wright's statements as a way to talk about race. What I'm guessing he means by this is to make the point that Wright has cause for anger. The aftereffects of de jure discrimination, its structural legacy, continues to harm black America almost a half-century after the triumphs of the civil rights movement: schools remain unequal, housing remains largely segregated by race, and some cultural pathologies of the black community--which Obama has admirably, if not heroically, addressed throughout his career--remain tragically intact. Obama is probably the one person in the country, though, who can tell this entire story, which is a lot more complex than Wright presents it: enduring bigotry and progress side by side, a new world of possibilities (embodied, not least, by Obama himself) and the same old dead ends and traps, pride and shame.

I think it was the United Negro College Fund that launched a campaign several years ago with this brilliant slogan: "Much has changed. Much has not." That's the story of black America in the 21st century, as this white boy sees it. Obama is the man to tell that story, and to move the country to more fully acknowledge the history of discrimination--but not be ruled by it, and not allow it as an excuse for failure to make progress or confront the problems within the black community itself.

But we only get to have that desperately needed conversation if Obama wins. Meanwhile, the circus is in full swing. That right-wing radio people are comparing Wright to the Nazis or KKK, or that Rush Limbaugh—Rush fuckin’ Limbaugh!—is calling him a race-baiter and hate-monger, is beyond silly. But there’s no primary for five and a half more weeks, and the media must clutch its pearls. This story will linger for another week, his poll numbers will dip, and then the circus will move on to another issue that might or might not have anything to do with our crippling financial and economic problems, the desperate need to reform our health care and education systems, the quagmire in Iraq, or any of the myriad other problems that are really at issue in this election. I’m guessing not.


Chris said...

Your post has too much common sense and truth in it for it to gain any sort of traction. Rush and Hannity have forced the agenda.

Luckily, I don't think it's gaining traction in the more respectable media.

David said...

I think you're probably correct--for a change, the calendar will favor Obama with this simply because the circus will move on (if any assignment editors happen to be reading, might I suggest the Clintons' tax returns?)--but honestly, I doubt Hannity and Rush do much other than preach to the choir at this point.

Either way, I don't think it's impossible that this ultimately leads to something positive, for Obama and for the country. But I might be irrationally exuberant this late afternoon following that rarest of occurrences: a Phils ST win.

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