Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, went on a little roadshow this weekend, bringing himself back to the front of the news and embarrassing the candidate. Obama let loose with the denunciation that he refused to mete out last month when videos of Wright's sermons hit the news for the first time.
Some people think invoking Wright as a criticism of Obama is a way to inject racial anxieties into the race. And it's true, you can't automatically attribute Wright's statements to Obama, but Obama did worship in this guy's church for 20 years, so this connection shouldn't be glossed over lightly. Obama's condemnation has been emphatic, but his hand has been forced.
Wright isn't saying anything now that he wasn't saying before, and Obama's claims at being shocked and surprised by Wright's beliefs rings false. I disagree with Wright's claim that his ideology is the universal faith of black people; I think Wright is far to the left of mainstream Democrats and most black voters.
I think he's correct to be progressive on gay rights, but Wright's criticisms of
Israel and his embrace of the Nation of Islam borders on anti-Semitism. Anyone who finds Wright's beliefs offensive has to be concerned about Obama's affiliation with this church. I think race baiting is disgusting, but I don't think invoking Wright against Obama qualifies.
The counterpoints trying to diminish the impact of Wright or to tar other candidates similarly fall flat. There is, for example, a photo of Wright shaking hands with Bill Clinton at a prayer breakfast with clergy members. Wright is a successful preacher with a large Democratic flock, and he draws a lot of political water in Chicago, and that's plenty for a presidential photo op. Nobody is screening the sermons of preachers who shake hands with power, but Obama spent two decades in this guy's pews.
Similarly, Obama's relationship with Wright is far deeper and more important than John McCain's acceptance of an
endorsement from the bizarre Rev. John Hagee, whose bizarre and politically powerful ministry is both a cause of anxiety and a subject of derision.
Hagee and his sort of weird apocalyptic Christianity is disturbing, but taking his endorsement is a different thing entirely from attending his church for decades. I think it would be perfectly acceptable for a candidate to court and seek Wright's endorsement. Running for the presidency requires the assembly of a coalition of disparate groups, and progressive or left-wing groups have a place under the Democratic tent, even though the Democratic party is not a left-wing party.
Likewise, Hagee and his Texas megachurch and the millions he claims hear his sermons on television have a place in the Republican party.
Affiliation with Hagee's church would raise the same sort of objections about a candidate that are being raised about Obama's affiliation with Wright. But John McCain's connection with Hagee is much les significant than Obama's relationship with Wright.
That said, if Wright shuts up and Obama doesn't falter in North Carolina or Indiana, the Republicans may not take the risk of backlash inherent in trying to bring Wright back into the conversation during the general election. So the whole point may be moot.