Dishonest and Deceptive
I don't know if you heard Obama's speech yesterday. You can read the whole thing here. I think it's better to read it than to hear it as it is easy to get caught up in the spoken emotion of the performance rather than the words on the screen.
As a piece of political rhetoric I thought it was very well done. The media certainly loved it. However, I also thought the speech was dishonest, deceptive and emotionally manipulative, even a touch sinister. In the speech I find at least 4 dishonesties and deceptions.
1) Sure, Wright said some things. Obama addressed some of the statements by Rev. Wright.
"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
"They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -He acknowledged that Wright's sermons were "divisive" and "racially charged".
a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with
America above all that we know is right with America..."
But this, as harsh as this may seem, is a sugar-coating of some of Wright's charges. Wright said on a DVD sold by the church itself, "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." This is not merely divisive or racially charged. This is the worst kind of paranoid delusion. Wright accused the white-controlled government of waging biological warfare against blacks by inventing a fatal disease. Wright stood in a church and accused the government of essentially Nazi behavior; he accused the government of unspeakable evil. To call this divisive is not enough.
Likewise Wright said that FDR let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor to justify an imperial war in the Pacific. Again, not only is this factually wrong, it defames a man millions of Americans consider to be a hero. This kind of accusation is not merely criticism of US foreign policy, as Obama describes it. This is an extremist conspiracy delusion and an insult to a great American, someone who held the very office Obama is running to occupy.
2) But he's done a lot of good. Obama defended Wright by saying that despite his lunatic ravings he has done much good as pastor of the church.
"He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS."
All this may be true. But the he-was-wrong-but-has-done-much-good excuse doesn't seem to work for other people. Obama called for Don Imus to resign after a racially charge incident, despite the fact that Imus had entertained and informed people for 20 years on his radio show and used his fame and fortune to start and fund many charities including a camp for disabled children. Obama called for him to be fired, plain and simple. Or take the case of Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld. The man was a talented and entertaining comic for 25 years, who entertained millions around the globe. He had a meltdown with a heckler one evening and was essentially banished from the entertainment world. These were not prepared remarks, mind you, but off the cuff insults during a moment of stress (unlike Wright he didn't put them on video and sell it for profit). Yet he did not get to use the I've-done-much-good-excuse.
Think back. Who else gets to scream in public like Wright and then excuse themselves because they've helped some other people? Please. I seriously doubt Obama would apply this standard to a white hate-monger. "David Duke is okay because he volunteers at the hospital." If I work at a soup kitchen do I get to use the word "nigger" in public? Not if I value my job and my teeth. Lots of evil men through history have started charities and orphanages, sponsored the arts, and helped their fellow men, even as they worked to fulfill their nefarious plans. Life is not a balanced ledger. You don't get to buy off your wrong-doings by helping people.
3) Hey man, blacks are angry. Oh, and whites too.
"That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. ... And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. ... But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races."Obama then shifts to white anger.
"In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most
working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. ... So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time."
True enough. You're angry, I'm angry, everybody's angry. Despite the eloquence, to say this is to say nothing. Anger is part of the human condition in a fallen world. Thanks for the insight, genius. Again though, Obama is using his well-written and well-delivered text to gloss over the fundamental problem. White anger is very rarely vented in public and certainly not in church. I'll give Obama's campaign $100 for every DVD the campaign can produce from a mainstream church where a white preacher screams about "lazy stupid niggers" or something similar. (Remember, Trinity is not some fringe group. It's the largest black church in Chicago with something like 8000 or 10000 members.) But the campaign won't find any such video from this century. Any white preacher at mainstream church who acted in a way remotely comparable to Wright would be dismissed. People would walk out. Some would shout back. Over the past generation whites have learned to be very careful with their anger in public. Obama is correct in that whites are angry but this anger is only expressed in the most controlled, most private settings. (Please, don't send me emails about lunatic local churches where some marginal preacher rambles in front of a dozen people. Wright preached in front of thousands and gave several services to SRO crowds on Sundays. Obama's campaign said Wright was one of the 10 most influential black preachers in America. Not marginal and not on the fringe.)
This issue is not about black anger. It's about the expression of that anger against whites in general expressed in church before thousands of applauding people. Wright spoke of "greedy whites" who "control the culture" "giving drugs" to blacks. This is more than anger. It's bigotry and if you're being intellectually honest, it's racism. Anger is acceptable. Racism isn't. What Obama seems to be saying, in a subtle way, is that it's okay for blacks to scream sheer racism in church because, well, they're black. So much for judging people by the content of their character. We've moved beyond that. Let's just judge them on the color of their skin.
4) We can't blame Wright because your white grandmother is a bigot. To me this is the worst kind of emotional extortion. This is where the speech derails and crashes. This is where someone should have heckled him.
"I can no more disown him [Wright] than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who
loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more
than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."
There simply no comparison. None. Zero. His grandmother said she was afraid of black men on the street. Hey pal, Chris Rock said he was afraid of black men at the ATM. Jesse Jackson said he was relieved when the two men who came up behind him at night were white. Are these racist statements or merely honest expressions of real fears?
Moreover, private statements of bigotry by one's elderly relatives from 30 years ago cannot compare to public expressions of bigotry before thousands of people last year (recorded and sold by the church itself). Not. Comparable. This white woman helped raise him after his African father had abandoned his family and fled the freaking country and he compares her to a hate-filled spastic, gesticulating wildly on stage before an audience who applauds his racist paranoia? Maybe I romanticize my grandparents. Maybe I'm sentimental by nature but my jaw dropped when I read that. The implication of course is that we all have elderly relatives who have said bigoted things over the years so we can't sit in judgment of Wright. Well, I can and I will. Moreover, to imply that my relatives are in some way comparable to a race-baiting simpleton parading as a religious figure who thinks his malignant weekly ravings pass as sermons is profoundly insulting. Fuck you Barack.
No doubt this speech contains many more dodges and slights of hand but those are the ones that most appalled me.