Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Does Obama Share Wright's Views?

Lanny Davis, at the Wall Street Journal this morning, argues that while Barack Obama "clearly" does not share the extremist views of his paster, Jeremiah Wright, he's nevertheless remained a member of the reverend's flock (via Memeorandum):

I have tried to get over my unease surrounding Barack Obama's response to the sermons and writings of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. But the unanswered questions remain.

I am a strong supporter of and a substantial fundraiser for Hillary Clinton for president (though in this column I speak only for myself). I still believe she should and will be the Democratic nominee. But if Sen. Obama wins the nomination, he needs to understand that this issue goes well beyond Clinton partisans. Now is the time to address these questions, not later.

Clearly Mr. Obama does not share the extremist views of Rev. Wright. He is a tolerant and honorable person. But that is not the issue. The questions remain: Why did he stay a member of the congregation? Why didn't he speak up earlier? And why did he reward Rev. Wright with a campaign position even after knowing of his comments?

My concerns were retriggered when I read for the first time three excerpts from Rev. Wright's sermons published several weeks ago in a national news magazine:

- "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."
-- Sept. 16, 2001 (the first Sunday after 9/11)

- "The government . . . wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no. God damn America; that's in the bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."
-- 2003

- "The United States of White America."
-- July 22, 2007

As I read and reread these words, I keep thinking: If my rabbi ever uttered such hateful words from the pulpit about America and declared all Palestinians to be terrorists, I have no doubt I would have withdrawn immediately from his congregation.

In his eloquent Philadelphia speech, Mr. Obama likened Rev. Wright to a beloved, but politically extremist, family member with whom one profoundly disagrees but whose rage one understands.

But this comparison just doesn't work for me. I don't get a chance to choose my family members. I do get a chance to choose my spiritual or religious leader and my congregation. And I do not have to remain silent or, more importantly, expose my children to the spiritual leader of my congregation who spews hate that offends my conscience.

Mr. Obama made a choice to join the church and to ask Rev. Wright to marry him and his bride. He said for the first time a few weeks ago that had Rev. Wright not recently resigned as pastor of the church, he would have withdrawn. But that only reraised the same questions: Why didn't he act before the resignation?
Well, why didn't he? Why didn't Obama act to separate from his relationship to the preachings of an America-bashing black liberation theologian.

It's an assumption, based on Obama's statements alone, that the Illinois Senator "clearly" does not share Wright's views. But if this is so clear, so self-evident, what substantiation do we have other than Obama's public professions?

If actions speak louder than words, Obama still going to have Wright as a political liability in the fall.

Obama's come up short in putting to bed concerns about Wright's teachings. He needs to return to the question once again, indicating that he's reexamined his statements since the crisis erupted. He needs to make a new address renouncing Wright's hatred once and for all. That will require, of course, a total renunciation of all ties to his church.

It should not be difficult.

All he has to say is "I will no longer attend a church that blames America for the evils befallen its people. My campaign is above that. I'm ending the division right now..."

People on both sides of the political aisle, as Davis' essay here shows, are waiting.