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In Focus: Obama’s Lame Excuse for Jeremiah Wright

It takes a hope-drunk partisan to rationalize Barack Obama's relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, writes Michael Weiss. Here's why Obama's apologia doesn't wash any better than the defense offered up by his online claque.

by
Michael Weiss

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March 17, 2008 - 9:19 am

“If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Jeremiah Wright told the New York Times in April of 2007. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

Well, Obama hasn’t got past the primaries yet and already he finds the distance vanishingly small between himself and the odious Rev. Wright, head of the Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago. Last week’s YouTube disclosures of the kind of sermons Wright delivers to his flock have forced Obama to confront a host of uncomfortable questions. Does he share his God-whisperer’s belief that the U.S. brought the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on itself by its own long, sorry history of state terrorism? That the government invented the AIDS virus as a plague for blacks? Or that a politician can know a preacher for twenty years, be married by him and have his two children baptized by him, without once having been privy to the preacher’s nasty rhetoric?

According to Obama, we’re expected to believe that the answer to that last question is a definitive yes:

“The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.”

So Obama wrote Friday in a terse and woefully inadequate essay on the Huffington Post. Note that the first sentence stands in stark contradiction to his prior admission, recorded in his own books, that he was indeed well acquainted with Wright’s opprobrious politics, which, speaking before a Jewish audience recently, he described as that of a kooky uncle at whom the whole family rolls their eyes but lovingly tolerate out of filial obligation. And how paltry an explanation is it that Obama remained a member of a toxic congregation because the man who encouraged him to join it was on the verge of retirement? This reeks of desperation and — oh, what’s the word? — hopelessness.

The same cynical calculation that led this bright atheist from Hawaii to join a church with supposed political access to black Chicago has led him to act as if no one would notice the kind of “spirituality” he’s been imbibing for two decades. We are the idiots we’ve been waiting for, I suppose.

That New York Times article makes clear that it was precisely Wright’s histrionic and demagogic pulpit style that endeared Obama to Trinity in the first place:

“Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.”

Now, I’d like to think that I’m concerned with the world beyond my own, too, but traveling with a filth merchant to the demesne of a tinpot dictator is not how I choose to stay informed. Nor would I, in shopping around for an electorally beneficial faith, look to take communion from a man who saw this as a worthwhile holiday.

But just you try telling Obama’s cheering section that their man has got more explaining to do.

Andrew Sullivan, lately the Saint Sebastian of the right, thinks he’s mounting a vigorous defense of Obama by reminding his readers that one’s “belief” is not necessarily indicative of one’s beliefs: “I remain in a church which describes gay people as ‘intrinsically disordered.’”

And Josh Marshall adds: “I’m not sure there’s much in it that doesn’t come out of the sermon tradition of African-American Christianity with a 60s twist,” which nicely insults both African-American Christianity and the 60′s in the same breath.

On the same day Marshall posted this to his Talking Points Memo blog, by the way, he linked without similar qualification to David Corn’s exclusive in Mother Jones on John McCain’s campaign ties to the vile Reverend Rod Parsley, whom McCain has called his “spiritual guide” and who believes the United States was founded to destroy Islam.

Don’t worry: Not much there that doesn’t come out of the sermon tradition of right-wing evangelicals with an eschatological twist.

Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of PJ Media. His blog is Snarksmith.

Michael Weiss is a senior editor of Tablet Magazine and a culture blogger for The New Criterion. He also writes occasionally for Slate, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, The New York Daily News and Standpoint.
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