Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Race and the Democratic Party

The Wall Street Journal�s Washington Wire is a good place to find all the opinions (left and right) on the Geraldine Ferraro issue, and the issue she brought up. This isn�t as complicated as it seems. The Democratic Party has put itself into this box. It has, over the years, wanted to emphasize issues of race and ethnic politics--always focusing on collective diversity, rather than on what we have in common--and that led to a weird feminism and race-based reverse discrimination, etc. So now they no longer know how to talk about how race should be only minimally significant in public matters. It is possible that the world does, after all, move on merit. That�s one reason Hillary Clinton isn�t beating Barack Obama. This will be a hard box for them to get out of, and, because they refuse to listen to say Clarence Thomas, for example, they will have to rely on Senator Obama�s capacity with words to explain what justice is and how the content of one�s character is more important than the color of one�s skin, and then maybe what charity has to do with any of this. So far, Senator Obama has not been able to oblige. There are just a lot of accusations. Now, I know that this is bad for the Democratic Party, and therefore I should be happy with their predicament. While this is true, it is not good for the country. This is an opportunity for these two Democrats to explain how we ordinary citizens should be thinking about these important things. Maybe I�m expecting too much. Maybe Senator Obama should first explain why his long-time pastor says blacks should not sing "God Bless America" but "God damn America." You would think this would be rhetorically easy for Senator Obama to do. Then he can tackle the more difficult problem.

Addendum: With his typical verve, Victors Davis Hanson has more on this.

Discussions - 9 Comments

The question isn't whether it's "easy" for Obama to denounce his America-hating, racist pastor, but whether he should. Clearly he should. And the fact Obama hasn't done this already is enough to disqualify him from the presidency --even from the status of a respectable candidate for the presidency. Indeed, it is enough to disqualify him from the Senate, or from a respectable candidacy for the Senate. Indeed, even this is too low a standard. Obama should have left Wright's "church" as soon as this sermon was delivered. Since he clearly didn't, he should be excluded from polite company. It's really that simple.

David, Isn't holding a politician responsible for everything his or her church and/or pastor says a bit extreme? If the church has a doctrine or habit of doing strange things, which it seems Obama's pastor is dangerously close to, then the questions begin. I've never seen a pastor though who if the things he taught and believed became public they wouldn't be a huge political liability. If we hold politicians too responsible for their church's beliefs, it will lead to a lot of politicians who will have to avoid church. I doubt that is ultimately a good.

I don't think Peter Schramm is expecting too much. It is the standard that Obama himself has set - to get "beyond. . ." This is a chance for him to fill in an important, perhaps the most important, blank space. From time to time he has gone down the right path, but now he badly needs to point there unmistakably.

Steve, I agree with you and Dr. Schramm that Obama should distance himself from the comments and use this as an opportunity to educate the public. My small disagreement was with David's comment that having a pastor with certain views should ruin a candidacy completely. People-probably all who are serious about religion-can't go to a church where they agree with everything. Just because one attends a church where the pastor says or believes something doesn't disqualify per se. When a church has a fundamental doctrine or habit it gets worriesome. Obama's pastor may be near that stage; I'd have to know more.

Clint is right to note that there should be no absolute judgment of guilt by association whenever a person's pastor spouts off something screwy. It is a matter of prudential judgment. Schramm and Frisk are right that, in this case, it's not a hard call. Obama should have walked out. He should denounce what Wright said. If he does not, it tells. Moreover, I believe it will cost him.

I like what Hanson says about Obama's "disingenuous disclaimer" giving lie to the idea that there is anything new in Obama's politics. It is evidence of his 'old politics.' And this should give us pause. What does it mean when old liberals attempt to eat their own progeny? He's just playing the game they taught him and they're angry because he's so much better at it than they ever were. Ferraro's comments were the political equivalent of "but . . . but . . . it's not fair!" coming from the mouth of a jealous sibling. But her indignation is nothing. No one could be angrier, I'll bet, than Bill Clinton. So much for his legacy.

The naivete of some of these posts is frightening. To compare Wright's racist, anti-American rants -- you should hear the savage, vicious TONE of his voice -- to everyday foolishness that any pastor might be guilty of is absurd. To suggest that there is no significant relationship between Wright and Obama is factually wrong. Knee-jerk pieties about not holding one man responsible for another may be "civil," but they're worse than useless analytically.
There is foolishness and there is racist anti-Americanism. There is racism and/or anti-Americanism expressed not at all, or calmly, and such a viewpoint expressed publicly and passionately. There is tenuous association and close association. Etc. Please, people. Let's look at the ugly facts here, not content ourselves with ACLU dogma that sounds intelligent in the ninth grade, but shouldn't impress anyone who's got more than a high-school degree (or, indeed, anyone at all who is an adult).

I know the Clinton camp will use this to score points, and I know that this is in part why the Clinton camp is right when it says that she is more electable(Obama has a greater volatility...he might win big...but he can loose a sure thing with greater ease.). The Clinton base is more moderate, more Hobbesian. The Clinton base is pragmatic, that is why she won in Ohio. The Obama base is netroots, liberal evangelical/volunteer crazy/young/angry/hopefull/radical/ in line by nature with a sort of Sojourner type abolitionist theology.

Clinton voters are far more likely to defect to McCain than Obama voters are. Clinton voters will defect to McCain because they are scared of high rhetoric/culture war bubbles. It is the Clinton voters who don't show up to the culture war talks.

As far as I can tell Obama is a man of conviction, and my guess would be that if he has thick enough skin to suggest opening up a dialogue with those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel then he is the sort to stay in his pew when the pastor says "God Damn America".

This will hurt him among the temperate-moderate theologically luke-warm pornography watching americans...but in black churches pastors aren't afraid to talk about hell...about God damning this or that, america included. Look these black churches aren't that different from the ones that abolitionist went to back when the argument was made that the constitution was a pact with the devil. They take a hard line because things are harder culturally...america is in worse shape for these people than for the people in rural conservative america. Personally I think Obama would say that differences in what and how people worship and what they say varies from culture to culture. People not familiar with the context and associations of a sermon will not understand it. To a black man attending Catholic Mass would be a completly different experience. Obama himself is certainly far more enlightened, but just because he is enlightened he is sensitive to the context in which people believe that God will or has Damned America for its sins.

Politically this is bad for Obama, he probably doesn't share that view, but he probably understands the brokeness and seperatness of the black church in america. God calls the church to be seperate from the world to be seperate from sin, my guess is that when the pastor says God Damn America, he is saying God damn sin. But Obama can't really take the time out to explain that people associate different words with different connotations...

Obama's best defense is really what he is trying to heal. Namely the tower of babble effect, that which has broken up every attempt at reaching consensus between human beings of differing cultures since the dawn of time.

Unfortunately for Obama his messianic campaign scares some secular conservative democrats who recognize in it too much cultural change/turbulence(Hobbesians fear rapid change as much as Burkeians). Which is part of the Clinton argument for why democratic superdelegates should vote for Hillary to prevent McCain winning the centrist vote(especially if he defies the conservative establishment...repudiates the cultural war folk.)

Well I am certainly more naive than wise, a fact that I am reminded of when I wipe out a month worth of earnings in three days time playing poker.

I am a rather poor and struggling poker player...Phil Helmuth says that playing poker is the hardest way to make an easy living, or vise versa. In any case I would go broke much quicker if I made such a naive "read" as to associate Obama with his minister on a more frequent basis than I might with confidence associate him with the ACLU.

The fact of the matter is that one might not miss by far if one said that Obama shared more in common agreement with the ACLU than he did with Reverend Wright. Therefore it is not unreasonable to defend Obama as one would defend an ACLU attorney who represented the Klan. In this case as in almost all cases with Obama association is a mater of his listening to the grievances of his constituents.

If I were not reading you as you mean to be read I could ungraciously label you racist for refering to the Reverend's tone as "Savage" and "Vicious". Certainly those are not words the Clinton camp would be able to get away using! I suppose it might sound that way to you...but perhaps he always sounds savage and vicious...perhaps he always preaches with fire in his belly...perhaps that is more of the typical way of preaching in African American churches. Should Obama have attended a Sojourner congregation more in line with his ideology than his cultural heritage? Did an intelligent man like Mitt Romney really believe that the book of mormon was written on a gold tablet that misteriously disapeared? Who knows exactly why Obama was part of that congregation? Obama is no doubt aware that racism exists in black churches and in white churches, but Obama is concerned with healing racism not fueling it. I think Obama would say that the key to stopping racism starts with giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt and then trying to understand why he believes what he believes.

Obama might say for example that he is capable of understanding the belief that Jews are saved by common grace and the belief that jews need to be evangelized or they will burn in hell. Obama might even go further and say that once you understand why someone holds a particular view point you can forgive them for the views they might hold that alienate you. Obama might be willing to forgive and look beyond a white girl calling him a nigger, if her only experience of black people was very negative. Racism and misunderstandig will be greatly reduced when people strive to place the words and deeds of others into a generous and comprehensible context.

I will leave it to you to determine how this sorts itself out politically but I am inclined from what I can tell, to agree with you that this will hurt Obama politically. In my opinion there are a lot of Clinton moderates who talk the liberal talk, but are frankly uncomfortable with it when it reaches Obama's pitch. These people are somewhat fine with hearing "turn the other cheek" in church (if they even go, and some don't because they are not)...but when applied to political issues such as national security?

A lot of Clinton democrats are scared the Obama bubble will burst(like other bubble markets) and they are uneasy about the Messianic tone of the rhetoric, they don't care much for the cultural war on the republican side and they don't care much for the cultural war on the democratic side even if they feel somewhat guilty for having that stance when it comes to cultural issues something unidentified about it scares them(for one thing Environmental issues clash with manufacturing jobs, as do liberal stances on immigration with low-middle class wages.)

In any case if I was a democratic superdelegate I would probably vote for Hillary Clinton. The country is not ACLU Liberal Evangelical enough to make an Obama presidency the sure thing experts calculate it to be right now.

It's good to see you back John Lewis. There is much sense and, I think, insight in what you say in both of your posts above. I don't agree with all of it (I rarely do) but you bring up such good points and remind us to think on different tracks--so it doesn't matter. You are very right about Obama pushing Clinton voters to McCain. I know at least three who were leaning Hillary and are now certain to vote for McCain--though they would never have voted for Huck or Romney. The thing is, these three probably would not come back to Hillary now even if she were to squeak out the nomination. They've seen a different and an ugly side of her in the last few months. They've seen that she's no Bill. I'm going to be very bold and say--going only with my gut and barring some crazy misfortune--I think McCain wins this thing.

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