Custom Search

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Rationalizes Wright's Rhetoric-UPDATED

[Updates below] Questions from a Clinton spokesperson and a flashback to a comment Obama made regarding Imus when Imus made racially offensive remarks and was suspended last year.

The recent firestorm that ensued after certain comments were published from Pastor Jeremiah Wright, (video found here) who is Barack Obama's pastor and has been for 20 years, forced Barack Obama to step up and give a speech today to supporters at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center.

The full text of the speech can be found here.

Obama's speech will, of course, be seen differently from a variety of people, die hard Obama supporters will see that he denounced specific comments made by his Pastor, moderates and independents might be left with some additional questions about his rationalizations almost excusing the more controversial aspects of the Pastor's "God Damn America" rantings, and the Republicans and conservatives will have definite ammunition to use against Obama if he ends up being the Democratic nominee of choice to run for presidency of the United States.

What his supporters will take to heart regarding the specific controversial remarks.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.


But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

The rationalization that might give moderates and independents pause..

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

The portion that will give conservatives talking points against Obama.

For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

The take aways from these portions of the speech, for Obama supporters will be that he did denounce specific comments.

Moderates and independents, who have only seen those snippets of Wright's speeches and do not know Wright separate from what has been plastered in every newspaper and throughout the world wide web, over the last week, will see Obama rationalizing and excusing Wright's behavior and words.

Conservatives will see that Obama admits to having heard divisive and controversial comments and political views he claims are not representative of his own views and yet he continued to have a close association with him, even stating in this speech, "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children."

The question that remains is, did Obama go far enough in this speech to stop the damage that has been recently reported where 56 perecent said that Wright's comments, "made them less likely to vote for Obama."

If conservatives were the ones polled there, that figure would not matter much at all because conservatives would not be voting for Obama in the general election anyway.... but 44 percent of Democratic voters were included in that figure.

Since 66 percent said they have seen, read of heard about Wright's comments, the takeaways from this speech of Obama's will be significant in scope, and time will tell if he went far enough in denouncing Wright or if the rationalizations will continue to damage him in the polls.

A very curious theme is developing in the blogosphere from those talking about this speech from Barack Obama.

All sides of the issue are happy with his speech, for different reasons.

Obama supporters are happy he denounced the specific Wright's comments and philosophy, Clinton supporters are happy that he rationalized and excused the man while only denouncing the rhetoric, giving them the opportunity to accuse him of "tap dancing", and McCain supporters are happy because they feel he opened himself up for criticism by trying to distance himself in a non distancing way and giving a "non-apology apology".

After reading the whole speech, do you think Obama went far enough in denouncing just the comments but not the man?

[Update] -37 minute video of the speech can be found at Obama's site, here,

Quick update:

Lanny Davis, a lawyer and former Clinton White House counsel and spokesman has weighed in on the Obama speech, over at Huffington Post, with two questions for Obama:

"1. If a white minister preached sermons to his congregation and had used the "N" word and used rhetoric and words similar to members of the KKK, would you support a Democratic presidential candidate who decided to continue to be a member of that congregation?

2. Would you support that candidate if, after knowing of or hearing those sermons, he or she still appointed that minister to serve on his or her "Religious Advisory Committee" of his or her presidential campaign?"

He also tips the Clinton Campaigns future strategy by saying:

I hope my message gets to someone in the Obama campaign -- or to a reporter traveling with the Senator -- who can persuade Senator Obama to answer them directly. As I just wrote, he will have to do so -- either now or perhaps in the fall.

Victor Davis Hanson over at The Corner, reminds us of a statement made by Obama when Imus had made and was suspended for making racially offensive remarks:

Obama: "I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus. But I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude. ... He didn't just cross the line. He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It's one that I'm not interested in supporting." (October 2007)