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More on Obama’s Religion


The indispensibleMark Steyn has some useful observations on Sen. Obama’s spiritual adviser. Here’s an excerpt, but read the whole thing. It’s short:

‘I’m sure,” said Barack Obama in that sonorous baritone that makes his drive-thru order for a Big Mac, fries, and strawberry shake sound profound, “many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.”
Well, yes. But not many of us have heard remarks from our pastors, priests, or rabbis that are stark, staring, out-of-his-tree flown-the-coop nuts. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose legions of “spiritual advisers” at the height of his Monica troubles outnumbered the U.S. diplomatic corps, Senator Obama has had just one spiritual adviser his entire adult life: the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, two-decade pastor to the president presumptive. The Reverend Wright believes that AIDs was created by the government of the United States — and not as a cure for the common cold that went tragically awry and had to be covered up by Karl Rove, but for the explicit purpose of killing millions of its own citizens. The government has never come clean about this, but the Reverend Wright knows the truth. “The government lied,” he told his flock, “about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.”
Does he really believe this? If so, he’s crazy, and no sane person would sit through his gibberish, certainly not for 20 years.
Or is he just saying it? In which case, he’s profoundly wicked. If you understand that AIDs is spread by sexual promiscuity and drug use, you’ll know that it’s within your power to protect yourself from the disease. If you’re told that it’s just whitey’s latest cunning plot to stick it to you, well, hey, it’s out of your hands, nothing to do with you or your behavior.

Discussions - 13 Comments

">">http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/23/denouncing-and-renouncing/index.html?8dpc"> Advice from Stanley Fish this morning.

Many will disagree, but there is something to the idea that we are talking about the wrong things. For example, only a small part of what Obama said has gotten virtually all the attention. Of course, Fish is not much of a partisan: he likes to annoy everybody.

It is just as well to ignore the latter half of Obama's speech because he goes into policy issues that make this just another political speech, mostly about a moral imperative for national health care, if I remember rightly.


The craziness Steyn points to is very much a part of America's political rhetoric just one flight down from what usually makes the news. I meet it all the time in casual conversations with strangers or acquaintances and wonder what to say about it. "Are you nuts?" is actually the first response that springs to mind, but I bite my tongue. How does Rev. Wright's type of understanding become common currency?

"How do you know?" is what I actually ask. I am told "Everyone knows..." about all sorts of things that follow from the presumption that government lies. How does anyone live in a world, a theoretically democratic world, where the government always lies about everything? How is it presumed to be possible?

The size and scope of the national nuttiness along these lines is the bigger issue. Candidate Obama could be carried to office on the wave of this kind of thinking, which is why he cannot exactly denounce it, completely. If he gains the presidency, what then? Does he become part of the government that always lies, or is he going to somehow to be presumed to be of a different order?

Finally, isn't it fascinating that this is such a focus of national attention? We all go on and on about this and nothing seems to settle the din as if there was some central conundrum that can't be settled. Steyn can denounce that as craziness, but it is an endemic madness and it doesn't go away.

">">http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/opinion/24kristol.html?_r=4&hp&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin"> Now Bill Kristol wants us to talk only about Obama's association with Wright, and not about the broader themes of his speech.

In the spirit of Kate's post, these thoughts. In addition to craziness in the land, we have historical ignorance. For example, judging from my experience in class, most students, black and white, learn that the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence meant only whites and excluded blacks; and they learn that the Constitution was originally a slave-holders' dream-come-true; and they learn sneeringly partial truths about Abraham Lincoln, usually from Lerone Bennett or Howard Zinn or lost-causers. Obama perhaps tried to do too much in his speech, and one of the things he tried to do was to tell a story of race in our history that the general public does not know. The conversation about race that he stressed was not the conversation about pastors or grandmothers but the one about our shared racial history - embedded in our law and our literature and everywhere else.

Forced by circumstances, Obama associated himself with an American narrative that is under siege, a narrative that would have Obama standing with Frederick Douglass and Lincoln and against William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown and John C. Calhoun.

I think keeping the focus on Wright and on why Obama did not storm out his church's door winds up being laughably, pitifully, narrow. What a loss of perspective!!

Well put, Mr. Thomas. In addition to being laughably narrow, this focus of attack also strikes me as appallingly cynical in that it is coupled with a complete absence (on this blog and elsewhere on the right) of condemning the many crazed, acid-tongued ministers aligned with the right (see esp. Falwell and Robertson shortly after 9/11) and, more lately, a total avoidance of condemning the McCain - Hagee - Parsley ties and other highly problematic connections (such as the Rove - Instapundit - Instapunk link). Fun, fun, fun.

Will anyone address the fact that McCain actively SOUGHT the Hagee endorsement, and proudly touted it with a press conference when he scored it?

Are people actually in denial about Hagee's extremism?

Steve, excellent comments, until your last little paragraph. It is not at all a loss of perspective. And if Obama loses the election due to his 20 year silent acceptance of Wright's leadership and his congregation's acceptance of Cone-style hate/heresy (oopps, I meant to say "of Cone-style black theology") then it will be JUST DESSERTS for the American left's longtime wink-wink acceptance of extremist consipiracy-ridden talk, especially as practiced in certain niches. It will be JUST DESSERTS for those who long ago gave a class of Dr. Cone-like types prestigious credentials under the guise of black theology or what-have-you, often by fooling themselves that doing so was necessary for justice's sake, necessary to establish one's radical cred. The scam that is racialist liberation theology JUSTLY DESERVES for its one and only practical outcome to be the sinking of the Democratic dream candidate. And the Democratic dreamers in our universities JUSTLY DESERVE to see their dream candidate defeated by the very nuttery they insisted HAD to be given a place in academe. The poverty of ignorance is very ugly, and you can see it by reading Kate's comment, or Steyn's column.

So Steve, what Obama is trying to do, undertake a Progressivist embrace of the American F. Douglass/Abraham Lincoln narrative, does have its noble aspects, especially when compared to the Zinnsanity that is out there. My deep qualms about what a Progressivist embrace of that narrative entails aside, I could wish Obama best of luck with his efforts to make a moment of racial reconciliation out of his own failures were the fact of 20 YEARS not such an overwhelming fact. I still hope that lose or win, he will steer the most reconcilating way out of this episode, i.e., that his deeply American rhetoric will wind up serving America even when it does not serve him. If he loses, and frames the Wright episode as a Racialist Swift Boats, i.e., as so much right-wing noise, he will truly harm his country.

a Progressivist embrace of the American F. Douglass/Abraham Lincoln narrative

That's your interpretation - Joe Knippenberg's too I think. Like you both, I think this is an interesting question. It's true that Obama calls himself a progressive instead of a liberal, but that's not what you are getting at. You mean that Obama's revised version of the narrative is historicist (progressive in that sense) instead of constitutional -- that is, tying what Obama said was implicit in the U.S constitution to the Declaration. I'm not so sure. Thinking about Frederick Douglass (thanks to Myers' lovely book - and see Peter's podcast), I find Douglass stays pretty much clear of a progressivist view. (Joe thinks that Obama, unlike Douglass, is intellectually disabled by a late-20th century legal education.) Obama's speech is probably not enough to go on.

Trashing Obama for the sins of silence on the left? How are we to weigh the relative burdens of zaniness and paranoia, left and right? I do agree that we must pay attention to what passes for American historical education in secondary school (where the goofiness comes mainly from thoughtless and, yes, lefty teacher ed programs), which is why I applaud what Peter Schramm and company do in the teacher program at Ashland. (I occasionally get some Ashland students in class.) You rightly point to the threat of a backlash in parts of the black community - see what happens to a brother when he makes a serious run for the top? They destroy him by guilt-by-association! Reverend Wright was right all along.

Obama can't go "beyond" (whatever that means) the racial status quo from nowhere. Black Chicago is his base, and his home. He is not Ed Brooke (for whom I once voted). That church welcomed him to the neighborhood.

As usual, Steyn has it right. William Kristol also has it right: There is no need for a national conversation on race. I would only add that the real intent behind most of these calls for a "conversation" is, in fact, to have something more like a monologue. Or in plain language, a lecture.

Steve, I think we're in agreement, at least in terms of your first paragraph. Yes, I'd prefer an embrace of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln that comes without the "we can't have racial progress without a historicist and living constitution" line of thinking that Obama seems to endorse. But I agree that his rhetoric is interesting and significant, in that has a different, as in better, flavor of progressivism to it, and a greater openness to the constitutional tradition. And obviously, if he does become president, or even if in losing he conducts himself so as to be a serious contender in 2012, his rhetoric will become a part of the American self-understanding, for better or worse.

Interesting rhetoric doesn't cut it. The speech was a disgrace, and so is Rev. Wright's ship of fools. Obama wouldn't jump ship. That's the bottom line. Nor, based on his voting record in the Senate, would we have expected it. The fact that his continued identification with this venomous pastor is unsurprising is no defense of Obama whatsoever. Let's keep our eyes on the ball. The times are far too serious for treating this like a gourmet experience.

We have Obama and are likely to have him before us for a very long time, even if he loses this election. It is as well to understand the basis of his appeal. Has this business seriously hurt him with his supporters? Wobbly ones, yes, and that is a very good thing. His support has not melted away, probably because there is uncomfortable number of people who think Rev. Wright has a point.

Still, if Obama has said something good, or said it well, why would we not acknowledge it and be grateful given the nature of his core supporters? What Carl Scott says in #8 is quite true in that what this man says is probably going to be with us forever and we'd better hope he says something good and true from time to time. If for no other reason, to counter the frightfulness of his policies.

Kate,
I know you don't approve of at least some of them, but are Obama's policies really "frightful" to you? You choose your words carefully, so what is frightful?

Steve Thomas, I know you are careful about your politics, so I went to the Obama campaign website to see what it says about his policies, lest I was overreacting. I don't know where to begin and don't have time to go through point by point as I would have to do to answer you completely. I'll be sloppy in my response and hope you forgive me.

I think he is unrealistic. I think his foreign policy is full of wishful thinking. A minor ex. "Obama will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years." How the heck could he do that? Ask everyone, very sweetly, as he will apparently do with all of our other foreign policy problems? "Please behave." We don't have time to wait until he becomes realistic. I worry that something will happen, given his soft or contradictory stand on some of these things. According to this list he will probably merely dither, like Carter did.


On domestic issues, he is also unrealistic. He complains of our debt, but the expense of those things he wants to do is incalculable. His plethora of programs, new or expanded old ones in unsupportable. For example, with Medicare and Medicaid already teetering, to speak of expanding them (along with SCHIP) is silly. I love the idea of tax relief, but he has things like "Provide Tax Relief: Obama will provide all low and middle-income workers a $500 Making Work Pay tax credit to offset the payroll tax those workers pay in every paycheck. Obama will also eliminate taxes for seniors making under $50,000 per year." which is sweet and my sons will love it, but where does our government get the bulk of its revenue but from the great mass of our working population? Tax the rich? But even you took from the rich all that they had, it would not fund the federal government for a month. So where will he get the money for all of those things he would like to do?

So even things I would love, like tax relief, or better relations with nations around the world, I would not like as he would do them. I worry that he will extend government through his Progressive policies. I worry about what that will do both to freedom and to the economy. I worry that he will let problems accumulate beyond our shores in the name of being reasonable and as if you can just say to America as it stands in the world, "Quick, look small and innocuous!" as if that will work. We are what we are, unless his policies diminish us to the extent that we become as innocuous as he would have us be.

I like bits of what he says. He speaks truth sometimes, but not nearly enough. When I look beyond the rhetoric and consider the practical application of his promises, then I find him frightful.

I am sorry for this blurt and have no time to edit. I didn't choose my words very carefully this time, Steve. Please, forgive me.

Kate, good post and thank you. Unrealistic, even wishful; contradictory, and unaffordable. Fair enough. These lists of "ideas" that we expect from candidates often turn up sausage. Who has time to compare them systematically, but I wonder if Obama's list is any worse than any other's. Newt's speech today might serve the purpose of sharpening Obama's thinking and the debate in general. That's what campaigns are supposed to do.

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