Sunday, March 23, 2008
Richard Landes has some thoughts on Obama, Wright and the prophetic tradition, in the course of which he recounts the following:
Although Reverend Wright has no problem attributing paranoia and stupidity to the "group of patriots in power", he does not seem to have much awareness of the power of paranoid thinking on his own ministry, and the terrible consequences of taking refuge in this thinking. And this is, indeed, a pervasive problem in the Black community.
I had my first glimpse of this problem in 2000, when, as the head of the Center for Millennial Studies, I sat on a panel with three rappers and a black academic colleague, discussing the apocalyptic themes in Hip-hop. The AIDS conspiracy came up repeatedly. Finally, a member of the audience asked, "How many on the panel believe these AIDS conspiracies?" The three rap artists all said they did. I said I did not. The African American professor said:
I don't want to answer that, because if I say I do, I'll lose credibility with my colleagues, and if I say I don't, I'll lose credibility with the brothers.
The implications of this reluctance to speak replicate closely the dilemma of Barack Obama...
Yes, but it's a dilemma that is wholly alien to the overwhelming majority of American voters. Liberals love to play these games with social conservatives, asking Republican candidates whether they think the Book of Genesis is the literal truth, or they believe in the Rapture. But there's wiggle room in stuff that hasn't yet happened or was all a long time ago. When you're questioned about whether the US government cooked up Aids in a laboratory in the late Seventies to kill black people, you're being asked whether you accept the objective reality of the world we live in. That's not a good thing to make a "dilemma" of.
The Reverend Wright is, to modify Cole Porter, not "dilemma" but "da limit" - a point beyond which Americans will willingly accompany Obama. So the simple fact that an absurd proposition for most people is a painful dilemma for the Senator has the effect of distancing him from those whose votes he needs. Rather than disown the kook he's spent 20 years listening to, Obama made his gran'ma the issue. Judith Apter Klinghoffer writes:
Does he have any reason to believe she was a "typical" prejudiced "white person?" No. The opposite is true. Unlike Barack himself, his grandparents were active anti-racist. So much so, that they had difficulty fitting into Texas' racist society of the early 1960s.
. . . At a bank where she worked, Toot (his grandmother's nickname) made the acquaintance of the janitor, a tall and dignified black World War II vet she remembers only as Mr. Reed. While the two of them chatted in the hallways one day, a secretary in the office stormed up and hissed that Toot should never, ever, "call no nigger 'Mister.'" Not long afterworlds, Toot would find Mr. Reed in a corner of the building weeping quietly to himself.... They (grandparents) decided Toot would keep calling Mr. Reed "Mister,".... Grams began to decline invitations from coworkers to go out for a beer, telling them he had to get home to keep the wife happy.
He goes on to tell a story about his 11 year old mother who played in the front yard with a young Black girl. Neighborhood Children gathered outside the picket fence shouting: "Nigger lover!" and "Dirty Yankee!" The grandmother tried to get them into the house. The grandfather went further:
Gramps was beside himself when he heard what had happened. He interrogated my mother, wrote down names. The next day he took the morning off from work to visit the school principal. He personally called the parents of some of the offending children to give them a piece of his mind. No, his grandfather did not say that he could no more disown racist whites than disown the white community.
Obama's gran'ma was consistently better than the times required. Jeremiah Wright is a lot worse than the times require. There is, in Gran'ma's conduct, the hope of change (as Obama would say). In Wright's, there is none. It's not difficult and all the portentous self-regarding rhetoric in the world can't make it so.
It's an interesting read. As someone else (I think it might have been you, Bot) pointed out, the presence of Mr. Wright in Obama's life for 20 years has failed to produce in him any of the same incendiary comments or attitudes Wright demonstrates. Perhaps Obama subscribes to the "steel sharpens steel" philosophy here, using that facet of Wright's personality as a way remain connected to that segment of society, and possibly even debate points with someone with whom you've a comfortable enough relationship to do so.
For example, hypothetically, it's plausible that Obama would let Wright tee off (in private), just so he could hear his arguments and search for the truth of them. If that's the case, you certainly don't want to change or silence the man - he speaks for swaths of African-Americans, after all - especially in that church, as others have pointed out. And you don't disown him, because his voice is the voice of his loyal flock (hence the "community" analogy he raised). You ignore that voice at your own peril; that doesn't mean you agree with what the voice says, or become subservient to it's demands.
There's a lot of value in having someone like this close to you. I don't think anyone in the public or media really understands the relationship between the two well enough to pass judgement.
I *do* think the concerns people have over the connection between Wright and Obama boil down to 8 years of conditioning we've suffered during 43's reign, since everyone near him seems to have a finger in the puppet so to speak. Bush may be "stubborn", but only insofar as he's ignorant (possibly kept intentionally so by his inner circle). I don't see the same indifference and arrogance out of Obama; but I haven't been looking all that long, and the man *does* want to be president.