Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The God Damn America Issue

Mark Steyn summarizes the evidence of the close--if selective--real and rhetorical connection between Obama and Rev. Wright. African-American churches have, with various degrees of intensity and imagination, developed "alternative narratives" of American history and all that. Some, of course, are genuinely instructive corrections to what we think we know, and others are willful and sometimes hateful distortions. Wright obviously tends toward the latter extreme; "God damn America" are the words of a hate-filled extremist. McCain has done well not to push this connection and or even imply that Obama can be identified with his pastor’s views. And this issue won’t hurt Obama in the quest for the Democratic nomination. In the short term, voters will want to believe his distancing denials. But there is something potentially very explosive here, and it will test the statesmanship of both senator-candidates.

Discussions - 21 Comments

As I think about it, Rev. Wright isn't all that far from the mainstream of much of the religious Left. He's engaging in what many would call prophetic witness. This isn't America hatred, it's speaking truth to power. And it's consistent with patriotism in that it looks toward a new, improved America, one that takes its past sins, highlighted by the prophetic witness, to heart.

Just a thought of how some well-meaning mainliners might defend Obama and Rev. Wright.

This attack is only nominally effective when the three-word phrase is kept out of its context, or its context is only partially revealed. As he said "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme." his words sound like an affirmation of a Christian hierarchy of sorts that's certainly not unheard of in conservative churches: God above all, and loyalty to God before anything else.

If America treated its Christians or its whites as "less than human" would you want, hope, expect God to damn that country? Or at least presume that it would happen?

Or is America reserved - forever and all time - for God's uncritical blessing, while any and all other countries are fully eligible for God's wrath (possibly delivered via American military might)?

As Wright is just another preacher to me I feel no real need or obligation to embrace or reject any of his remarks. But it is interesting to see how others react to them (while not, of course, ever reflecting on any of those uttered by close associates and endorsers of McCain, for instance) and try to milk them for every last drop of political goodness, even after Obama has clearly disavowed the comments and distanced himself from them.

The "prophetic witness" defense of Wright's "God damn America" has taken place ... I saw on TV one defender of Wright draw a parallel with the Old Testament practice of prophets calling down damnation on God's chosen people who had gone so horribly astray.

I think the defense would ring more true if Wright had asked God to damn a class of behavior rather than the whole of America. "God damn the unjust; God damn the selfish." But he chose to name a whole nation and the sum of its people. And the subtle problem here is that he was not including himself, his church or black people in that categorization. The implication being that those are, by virtue of their victim status, morally superior.

Over time decent and giving people -- that is America, by and large -- build up resentment being told they are morally inferior, forever burdened with the sins of their fathers. Eventually such resentment seeks an outlet.

Has Obama been connected to Wright and his message in the minds of average America? Or has he effectively distanced himself? We'll see.

decent and giving people -- that is America, by and large

What America do you live in?

What America do you live in?

The same as you. Look around. Sure, there's a fat dose of selfish people. But if you choose to look for decent, giving people, you'll see them. If, however, you wish to view the world through cynical glasses, you'll see exactly what you want to see.

I think that on some level Obama's liberalism commits him to saying "God Damn America" with equal conviction as "God bless America". I am not sure he has tremendous conviction in saying either, because fundamentally he is opposed to blessing an abstraction on the scale that america is. This was revealed in part when he discussed the war on Iraq during the Sojourners discussion. He said that a danger of justifying any war (insert the danger of blessing any country)was..."And so the danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions."

In other words the question is: Should God bless America for its evils as well as its goods?

Now this may seem to be a question of political optometry. Matt Mingus can see evil and Don in AZ can see good... but obviously this is somewhat non-partisan in that pro-life republicans for example can see abortion as a great evil, so both republicans and democrats can with little imagination see both good and evil in America.

Now I am partial to Don in AZ's rebutal of the "prophetic witness" argument. Don says in essence what Obama said of Just war. That we could seperate out classes of things to damn such as the "selfish" and the "unjust" instead of "america". But while Obama might agree there is tension for him, because he says a large problem is that we have lost the notion of togetherness because we selectively look towards only the bad or only the good and thereby loose togetherness.

" Well, I think our starting point has to be based on the notion that I just expressed, that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, that we are connected as a people, that when, as I said in my speech at the Boston convention, when there's a child somewhere here in Washington, D.C., who is impoverished in a crumbling school without prospects and hope for the future, then that impoverishes me. If there's a veteran in Chicago that's foraging through a dumpster because he's now homeless because we did not provide him the services that he needed after he served our country, that diminishes all of our patriotism."

"A couple of things that we have to do is to fix our politics, and we have to get beyond what Dr. King called the "either/or mentality" and embrace "the both/and mentality." And our politics have exacerbated this notion of either/or."

Thus for Obama one could hypothesize that when it comes to God Blessing or Damning America it isn't a question of either/or but both/and. God Bless America and God Damn America, because a God who blesses all things equally really blesses none.

Now when it comes to healing america what Obama rally means is restoring the possibility of speaking about America not as a class of things God has blessed or as a class of things that God has Damned but Both/and.

What does this mean concretly? "So when I look at the situation in the Middle East -- and this is true in other conflicts around the there a way for us to reconcile the claims of both sides of the conflict in a way that leads to resolution and a better life for all people." Of course this is difficult if you happen not to be wearing the rose colored lens on a particular issue..."And that's where I think faith can inform what we do: Faith can say, forgive someone who has treated us unjustly. Faith can say that, regardless of what's happened in the past, there's a brighter future ahead. And that's the kind of faith that I think has to inform, not just our international policies, but also domestic policies, as well."

I agree in part with your comment 3 Don, but I don't see why you think Obama was not including himself, and black people in that categorization. I am not sure that there is anything Obama would exclude from God's Blessing and Damnation. For Obama a single mother on welfare raising children without prospect or a veteran dumpster diving are ways that God has dammned america, and by extension every american. Under this "theology", The blessings of america bless everyone and the damnation of america damns everyone. For Obama it is a team mentality, you are only as good as your weakest link. America is in Rawlsian fashion only as blessed as the least of its citizens. It is about the connectedness of people. Obama is running to resurect a "I am my bothers keeper" type mentality and probably believes that it is only under such a shared social fabric that the words "God bless America" have any meaning. In fact when his wife says that his campaign allows her to feel comfortable saying "God bless America" she is basically saying that she is made bold by the dramatic enthusiastic embrace of his "Sojourner" message.

An inflammatory statement that takes several paragraphs to explain (away) isn't going to be explained away.

Lincoln in the Second Innagural indicated that maybe, God had been punishing America. Scourging it. And the song is a plea, a prayer, for God's blessing of America, not an assumption of it. Indeed, the assumption is that A) the nation will have to act in a way worthy of the blessing, and B)that since it never can act good enough to do so, it needs God's help to do so. America is a blessing, a good, that needs more of God's blessings to maintain itself.

To ask God to scourge a nation, to punish it for its own good, that is one thing. To say, as Malcolm X did of JFK's assasination, that "the chickens have come home to roost," i.e., that the U.S. govt. was reaping what it sowed, is another. Wright says essentially this about 9-11. To ask God to DAMN a nation, however, well, that's a next step, isn't it? Seemingly merely an unbecoming crudity(which it is also), but particularly coming from the mouth of a minister, a theologically awesome entering into God's prerogatives, a la, "Hey, put me at the right hand of the Father," or, "Hmm...I want Claudius to writhe in hell, and so I won't kill him now when he seems to be asking for forgiveness."

Scanlon accuses conservatives of taking glee in this moment, of not "moving on" given Obama's very forthright condemnation of Wright's words. It must have been painful to make that condemnation for Obama, true. But as the Steyn essay points out, Obama has been listening to Wright for 20 years. Has gotten phrases like the "audacity of hope"(flip-side, apparently, when the hope's audacity fails, is to DAMN the world) from him. He surely knew about Wright's 9-11 statements, and about a certain strain in Wright's thinking and preaching that blamed Amerika big-time. But sadly, he got used to it...this is what accepting the centrality of race-grievance politics, and its too-easily made link to prophetic spirituality, gets you used to.

There are, unfortunately, probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of black pastors, that have preached things similar to Wright. Pastors who most of the time represent a certain sort of respectability, and genuine Christian teaching. This is their Sister Souljah moment. They are part of America. They might produce leaders to lead it. They cannot DAMN it. Their understandable ambivalences and memorial-keepings of past wrongs have got to be worked into some sort of F. Douglass type narrative of America's meaning. They have gotten too used to prophetically railing against it, to cheapening the prophetic possibilities latent in their religion for the race-linked issues of the day. They have got to get out of their intellectual and emotional ghetto.

Will they have ears to hear?

I am by nature a very cynical person. I don't wear "rose colored glasses." But I have come to recognize the cynicism, and I am capable of seeing good, just as I am capable of seeing evil.

By most any objective standard America is very giving -- private charitable contributions per capita; government efforts in famine relief and emergency response. And at the interpersonal level I'd be willing to bet even Matt Mingus has come across kind and gentle people who make a difference in the lives they touch.

Hence my comment about America by and large being a good and giving people. Yes, there exists bad people. But the collective posture of this nature tends towards the generous.

That's a point-in-time statement; sadly, the trend line doesn't look as good.

Whether or not Wright (and others of his ilk) include themselves in their blanket condemnations of America and her society is open to debate. I believe in their heart-of-hearts they think themselves purely the victims and not part of the problem. Consider the response Bill Cosby received when he suggested that perhaps at least part of the problem African-Americans face can be attributed to their own behavior. I maintain my position -- I believe Wright's (and Sharpton's and Jackson's, etc.) rhetoric is meant to imply "them" and not "us."

I don't think that's all that inflammatory a thing to say. A simple question to Wright or Sharpton on the subject would be illuminating ... but of course they're well-practices in the art of avoiding answering such questions.

Via Lisa Schiffren at NRO, read this analysis of "black liberation theology."

By my reading it seems to support my suggestion that Wright meant to exclude the black community from the damnation called for from God.

I was only vaguely aware of "black liberation theology" prior to reading that article. Some of what Cone is quoted as writing is striking: "Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy."

Wright apparently subscribes to this, otherwise he would not have cited Cone in the interview mentioned in the linked article.

Whether Obama subscribes to this is the open question.

First, America did not start the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Africa was pretty much responsible for the institution of slavery with a great deal of help from the Muslims in the Middle East and then the Spanish and Portaguese Slave Traders who brought the majority of the African Slaves (about 80%) to Cuba and South America. Only about 8% of the African Slaves arrived in America. Funny, neither Cuba or South America have a large population that descents from Africa-why because they let their African Slaves die in the coffe and tea fields. Slavery still thrives in Africa to this day. Matter of fact there is more slavery taking place in this day and age in comparison to the time of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, but it is not addressed because it is Africia, the Middle East and Eastern Asian Countries that are the hot beds for modern-day slavery. It would hurt people's feelings in American if this issue was discussed. By the way White Christian British Men abolished Slavery in Britian in 1833 and White Christian American Men abolished Slavery in American with the establishment of the 14th Amendment after the War for Southern Independence. We are still waiting on Africa, the Middle East and the Eastern Asian countries to do the same.
My real concern with Obama stems from the fact that he, unlike Condi Rice, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc. was not raised in the segretation south. He was raised in Hawaii and I believe for some time in Asia. He attended an Ivy League school, makes more money than most Americans, has been elected as a Senator in the United States Senate, wrote two best-selling books, etc etc. What would make him buy into the rhectoric of Wright. Obama buys Wrights rhetoric, but he has never lived the life or experienced what Wright preaches. How can Obama agree with "God Damn America" when he is living the American Dream? Something his "Ancestors in Africa" would give their lives to have.

I'll just say that it might be a good time to get used to saying President McCain.

Obama made a crucial (and politically fatal?) mistake in claiming that he wasn't really all that familiar with some of Wright's more incendiary comments. That beggars the imagination and opens the door to further queries along the lines of: "really"? "What *did* you hear at church?" Etc. It certainly throws a shadow on the inspiring personal narrative that has been driving his campaign...

Cowgirl, Obama has openly and stoutly repudiated the words in question. See the link in the earlier thread, or just go direct to RealClear Politics.

My point, is that he got too USED to such rhetoric, and thus was not able to pre-empt this issue. Had he on record a letter or public comment from the time objecting to Wright's 9-11 statments, and to his general strain of blame-Amerika, he would be in good shape with this issue.

The big deal is that this strain of rhetoric was no big deal for him.

This is a problem for all sorts of Democrats.

Sadly, it is more of a problem for Democrats associated with the, er, shall we say, "historically black," churches. And thus, it points to a huge problem for those who want to foster the Jim Wallis/Ronald Sider vision of prophetic Christian witness in full (or half-way) support for Democrat-ically defined social justice. Bible-language, particularly when used with a presumed God-on-my-side vision of social justice, particularly race-wise, almost always sound shrill, extreme. There are probably thousands of extremist or rhetorically over-the-top statements from social-justice sermons, which exist in some verifiable form out there in informationland, which means that probably each and every Democratic star who highlights his involvement in a typical black church, or in any (white, or whathaveyou) social-justice-heavy one, has got to do his homework, and has got to come out on record at some point against extremist statements where they exist. Particularly when a pattern exists, and is tied to the top leadership of a church. A lot of these churches have practiced the requisite rhetorical moderation even when they feel passionately about various political issues. But MANY haven't. We will see this story repeat itself.

Baldilocks has lots of stuff on this issue of the "black" church and politics, scroll down today(3/17), especially the interview excerpts with the great Shelby Steele. One link from Baldilocks that is particularly interesting discusses Obama's Afrocentric not Christcentric church. Wow. I thought Julie was smoking something above when she said Obama is toast...not sure now. But say a prayer for the man, he still might wind up our president, and he's facing some hard choices ahead on this.

Carl Scott:
I watched the interview between Major Garrett and Obama on Fox News. Sorry the words may say one thing but the stuttering and the body language say another. If Obama really doesn't not agree with his Pastor of 20 years, why did he continue to go to the church and listen to him. If the pastor of my church starting spewing this type of hate, I would get up leave and never, never return.

Carl Scott:

As an additional comment. Obama claimed in his interview with Major Garrett on Fox News that he was not personally aware of the rantings of his Pastor. Really? Well please explain the following passage from his book If that is true, then why did he write the following his book, Dreams From My Father in 1995 - which by the way is 13 years ago.

The title of Reverend Wright’s sermon that morning was “The Audacity of Hope.” He began with a passage from the Book of Samuel—the story of Hannah, who, barren and taunted by her rivals, had wept and shaken in prayer before her God. The story reminded him, he said, of a sermon a fellow pastor had preached at a conference some years before, in which the pastor described going to a museum and being confronted by a painting title Hope.

“The painting depicts a harpist,” Reverend Wright explained, “a woman who at first glance appears to be sitting atop a great mountain. Until you take a closer look and see that the woman is bruised and bloodied, dressed in tattered rags, the harp reduced to a single frayed string. Your eye is then drawn down to the scene below, down to the valley below, where everywhere are the ravages of famine, the drumbeat of war, a world groaning under strife and deprivation.

“It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere…That’s the world! On which hope sits!”

And so it went, a meditation on a fallen world. While the boys next to me doodled on their church bulletin, Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House. As the sermon unfolded, though, the stories of strife became more prosaic, the pain more immediate. The reverend spoke of the hardship that the congregation would face tomorrow, the pain of those far from the mountaintop, worrying about paying the light bill…

I strongly recommend this article by Glenn Greenwald, which puts some much-needed perspective on the whole "hate-filled extremist" designation given to Wright.

If crapping on the GOP constitutes "perspective", sure. I notice he pretty much ignores Wright in that column. To the extent he mentions Wright, it is only to give a false impression of the things he has said.

Wright is a racist loon. Since you are one also, Craig, I'm sure you won't be troubled by that.

I will recommend not to hold off until you get enough amount of money to order different goods! You can just get the mortgage loans or car loan and feel yourself free

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