Obama ridiculed Wright for “caricaturing himself” at a National Press Club appearance, and declared that his preacher was a vain showboat: “What mattered to him was commanding center stage.” Obama bristled with disdain as he condemned Wright for his “divisive and destructive” remarks.
Tough talk indeed — although naturally, it would have been even better if Obama had called for Wright to be “obliterated.” Then he would have appeared really tough.
But this is indeed a curious and telling episode. If one actually takes the trouble to read Wright’s remarks before the Press Club — which almost no journalist in America did, although they are easily available at the Washington Post’s web site — it is difficult to see what in God’s name all the brouhaha is about. Even Wright’s most “controversial” remarks — about AIDS, Louis Farrakhan and, in Obama’s words, “equating America’s wartime efforts with terrorism” — are couched in plausible contexts, and are actually more nuanced than the, well, caricature of them that Obama condemned. Most ludicrous of all were Obama’s hysterics about the “divisiveness” of Wright’s remarks, when the theme of racial and cultural and religious reconciliation was sounded over and over throughout the appearance.
At any rate, let’s do something really radical here. Let’s actually see what Wright actually said. The quotes below are from the WP transcript. Now, I realize that reading a transcript is different from watching a “spectacle,” as Obama put it, on the Tee-Vee. And from the furrowed-brow remarks of concerned libprogbloggers, I understand that Wright was downright uppity in his demeanor, which might upset the “Gate 14” crowd out there, and we sure wouldn’t want to do that. But still, there are scattered pockets out there where words still mean something, so let us consult the text. Here’s Wright on the “black church”:
God’s desire is for positive, meaningful and permanent change. God does not want one people seeing themselves as superior to other people. God does not want the powerless masses, the poor, the widows, the marginalized, and those underserved by the powerful few to stay locked into sick systems which treat some in the society as being more equal than others in that same society.
God’s desire is for positive change, transformation, real change, not cosmetic change, transformation, radical change or a change that makes a permanent difference, transformation. God’s desire is for transformation, changed lives, changed minds, changed laws, changed social orders, and changed hearts in a changed world.
Well, perhaps Obama is correct, after all. This is pretty divisive stuff. It divides the miniscule sliver of rapacious elites (and their sycophants) from the vast majority of the American population. Obviously, when Obama says he is trying “to bridge the gap between different kinds of people,” he wants to reconcile “the poor, the widows, the marginalized” with “the powerful few.” The former should learn to love the latter — and for God’s sake not seek to change any social orders or sick systems. No, that kind of talk is indeed “appalling.” As Obama says: “It is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.” Good to know, Barack. Thanks for clearing that up for us.
Wright goes on:
Our congregation stood in solidarity with the peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua, while our government, through Ollie North and the Iran-Contra scandal, was supporting the Contras, who were killing the peasants and the Miskito Indians in those two countries.
Our congregation sent 35 men and women through accredited seminaries to earn their master of divinity degrees, with an additional 40 currently being enrolled in seminary, while building two senior citizen housing complexes and running two child care programs for the poor, the unemployed, the low-income parents on the south side of Chicago for the past 30 years. Our congregation feeds over 5,000 homeless and needy families every year, while our government cuts food stamps and spends billions fighting in an unjust war in Iraq.
Our congregation has sent dozens of boys and girls to fight in the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, and the present two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. My goddaughter’s unit just arrived in Iraq this week, while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service, while sending … while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls of every race to die over a lie.
This is what Obama called “a very different vision of America” from the one that he espouses. Obama is “outraged” by this kind of com-symp stuff — dissing Oliver North, for God’s sake! Why, the mind boggles at such anti-American divisive unpatrioticness! Outrage indeed!
Then Wright got to the heart of his divisive, destructive, racist remarks:
When Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were dragged out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, during the same year, 1787, when the Constitution was framed in Philadelphia, for daring to kneel at the altar next to white worshippers, they founded the Free African Society and they welcomed white members into their congregation to show that reconciliation was the goal, not retaliation.
Absalom Jones became the rector of the St. Thomas Anglican Church in 1781, and St. Thomas welcomed white Anglicans in the spirit of reconciliation.
Richard Allen became the founding pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the motto of the AME Church has always been, “God our father, man our brother, and Christ our redeemer.” The word “man” included men and women of all races back in 1787 and 1792, in the spirit of reconciliation…..
And we recognize for the first time in modern history in the West that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles, and different dance moves, that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness, just as we are.
Only then will liberation, transformation, and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals.
That was the end of his prepared remarks. He did not mention AIDS, Farrakhan or the War on Terror in the talk; these were all brought up by questioners afterward. And his responses formed the soundbites which will now reverberate in the media echo chamber from now until election day. So let’s take a look at these controversial remarks.
First, what Obama called “such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS.” After citing some books on the subject, Wright said:
So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.
I personally don’t believe that the U.S. government concocted the AIDs virus; but the notion that a government which conducted murderous medical experiments on black men for decades, and sold chemical weaponry to a brutal dictator (and, by providing military intelligence, helped him use them against the Iranians), and also launched a war of aggression in Iraq that has killed at least million innocent people might also be capable of creating and unleashing a deadly disease is certainly not implausible. (See Arthur Silber for much more on this.)
Now what about Farrakhan? Obama denounced Wright for saying that Farrakhan was “one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st centuries.” Of course, Wright didn’t say that. He said Farrakhan was one of the “most important” voices, because he was able to reach millions — and move them to action. This is simply a statement of fact. Adolph Hitler was one of the most important voices of the 20th century for the same reason. And so was Martin Luther King Jr. Let’s go to the tape:
As for terrorism, Wright simply referred the questioners to his previous “controversial” sermon on the matter. And here’s what he said in his sermon:
We took this country, by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapajo, the Navajo. Terrorism — we took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians — babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with Stealth Bombers and killed unarmed teenagers, and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers. [fullest voice] We bombed Khaddafi, his home and killed his child. Blessed be they who bash your children’s head against the rocks.
We bombed Iraq, we killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed the plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy — killed hundreds of hard-working people — mothers and fathers, who left home to go that day, not knowing they’d never get back home. [Even fuller voice] We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school — civilians, not soldiers. People just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas is brought back into our own front yards.
America’s chickens are coming home to roost. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism.
A White ambassador said that, y’all, not a black militant. Not a Reverend who preaches about racism; an ambassador whose eyes are wide open, and who’s trying to get us to wake up, and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised.
So there you have it. This is what Obama calls “equating the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism.”
Let’s give Obama the benefit of the doubt when he says he is not just “politically posturing” in his denunciations, that he is speaking from the heart. What are we left with? That his “vision of America” does not include any “positive change, transformation, real change, not cosmetic change” in a “social order that has gone sour.” And that the “War on Terror” is just peachy-keen with him; in fact, it is so sacrosanct that it cannot even be criticized. A war of agression that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people cannot be compared with “terrorism”; it is a legitimate expression of national policy, even if one might disagree with its timing and the mechanics of its execution.
Obama won’t vote to impeach the president for his high crimes; he won’t even denounce them for what they are. But he has sure enough impeached his preacher for all the world to see. Which, as Silber says, is “much more significant — and much more revealing — than any of Wright’s comments themselves.”
*Note on the scripture reference: No, I’m not saying that Wright is Jesus. But since Obama, like all the candidates, has soaked his campaign for the presidency in religious piety, these Biblical echoes are apt as literary comparisons.