[Editor Note: I've modified the last paragraph to correct a typo and improve clarity (new material in brackets).]
The Tribune news reporter discussion with Barack Obama on March 14th provides a decent explanation of Obama’s relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
“[Obama speaking]…Rev. Wright is somebody who came of age in the 60s. And so like a lot of African-American men of fierce intelligence coming up in the ’60s he has a lot of the language and the memories and the baggage of those times. And I represent a different generation with just a different set of life experiences, and so see race relations in just a different set of terms than he does, as does Otis Moss [who took over after Reverend Wright's retirement], who is slightly younger than me. And so the question then for me becomes what’s my relationship to that past?
You know, I can completely just disown it and say I don’t understand it, but I do understand it. I understand the context with which he developed his views but also can still reject unequivocally. . .
Tribune: You reject his views, you won’t reject the man. Is that it?
Obama: Yeah, exactly. And this is where the connection comes in. I mean, I do think that Geraldine Ferraro, the lens through which she looks at race, is different. . . . She’s grown up in different times. The Queens that she grew up in is, I’m sure, a different place than it was then. Just as Chicago is a different place than it was then.
So part of my job is to see if I can help push the country into a different place with a different set of understandings. But as I said, it doesn’t excuse what the reverend said, and I’m very troubled by it. And if, as I said, if I had heard those sermons, if I had been there when those sermons were taking place, I would have raised that with him, and if I had thought that that was the message being promoted on a consistent basis within that church, I don’t think I could be a consistent part of it.”
I’m not in a position to judge how “consistent” a message some of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s more extreme statements getting play time now were to Trinity United Church of Christ over the last two decades. I disagree strongly with some of them. Nor do I have evidence that Barack Obama was in attendance when such statements were made. While Barack has said he wasn’t, I think it fair to say that he at least should have been aware of them given the amount of time involved. But what strikes me as an important corrective here is Barack Obama’s legislative record – since I and many others have voted for Barack to occupy the “bully pulpit” and not a religious one. Let me offer a couple of examples of what I mean, neither one of them religious.
[Click below to read more]
President Lyndon Johnson has been accused of racism and, while I’m no expert in his career, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t ample evidence of racist comments and perhaps worse on his part. He was in that respect no doubt a product of his times – that’s not an excuse, but an explanation. Yet Johnson is the man who “lost” the south for the Democrats by signing and advocating landmark civil rights legislation like the “1964 Civil Rights Act” and the “1965 Voting Rights Act.” As a president, a political judgment, there is little doubt in my mind what Johnson championed in this regard, and at great political cost.
Reverend Al Sharpton is a gifted political speaker who has run for president. I caught a small part of what he had to say recently on NPR in a program with Tavis Smiley – Sharpton was in great form – and I largely agreed with him in the brief remarks I caught about transparent government. However my judgment of Reverend Al Sharpton is forever marred by his actions in the Tawana Brawley case. I don’t know if Sharpton in his heart of hearts is racist, despite appearances Reverend Sharpton lived at least for a time in wealthy suburban Englewood, NJ, which is far from the image or reality of an inner city ghetto that one might associate with him. However, politically, as a racial opportunist and worse, the Reverend Al Sharpton’s record provides me with what I need to consider when he runs for office.
Moving from the importance of public actions to that of private actions, I am reminded of what I have described regarding the private lives of politicians. A candidate’s religious views do not fall neatly as all public or all private – a lot depends on the candidate, since religious views may influence politics. Given this ambiguity, surely a candidate’s political track record and actions is the best guide. The best political criticism of Barack Obama would be to link his twelve year legislative record and policy proposals with the objectionable statements of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I have not seen anything remotely convincing on that front. Nor for that matter am I aware of Barack Obama giving voice to Reverend Wright’s objectionable statements in Barack’s speeches, regardless of the audience. Again such an absence is telling. What I am aware of is Barack Obama’s attempt to find common ground on political issues that span different religious beliefs. For example, Barack Obama has been justly celebrated for going to Reverend Rick Warren’s conservative evangelical Saddleback Church to find common ground. Obama went there to discuss ways to stop the worldwide AIDS epidemic, despite his disagreement with many parishioners, and Reverend Warren, on issues like abortion.
Would I have been happier if Barack Obama had denounced Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s objectionable views much earlier? Yes. I’d also be happier if John McCain expressly denounced the views of the prominent religious right leaders he has sought political support from who have made similarly objectionable statements. The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain in this regard is that Barack Obama’s politics do not embrace Jeremiah Wright’s objectionable views, which Obama has denounced – while John McCain has come to embrace politically [in the last few years] those he denounced
a mere four eight years ago as “agents of intolerance.” [The "agents of intolerance" have not changed their views - it's unclear if John McCain has changed his views.] That’s a political difference that matters.