Obama denounces his pastor’s words

Barack Obama makes a guest appearance on The Huffington Post:

Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.

That’s categorical enough for me, but I’m an Obama supporter. I’m sure Clinton and McCain will continue to score cheap political points off the controversy.

As of yesterday, the Clinton camp is still using Samantha Power’s reference to Clinton as a monster. That’s despite the fact that Power immediately tried to retract the statement, subsequently apologized for it, and resigned from Obama’s campaign within hours of the statement becoming public.

Politics ain’t beanbag“.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Mar 14, 2008 @ 19:32:03

    This is stuff like the USA was responsible for 9/11and that Jesus was a black man killed in a white plot that Obama is seeking to distance himself from, isn’t it?

    With all due respect Stephen, but not even close. This isn’t some random nutjob Obama met one day in the hope of getting an endorsement from, this is the man’s “spiritual guide” of 20 years standing, the man who married the Obamas and who was first choice to speak when Obama formally announced his run for the presidency (before being hurriedly uninvited when some of this stuff first started to leak). These aren’t sentiments he has kept quiet about either – he has loudly and frequently declaimed them from the pulpit. Do you really think this is the first time Obama has heard this sort of stuff from Wright? And yet, only now when the media picks them up, does Obama feel it is appropriate to denounce Wright.

    Frankly we are entitled to believe that a close relationship of 20 years standing says more about Obama’s real opinion of Wright and his views than a statement issued in response to an adverse news cycle in a campaign season. There are times when we really are entitled to judge somebody by the company they keep.

    Reply

  2. nebcanuck
    Mar 14, 2008 @ 21:58:54

    I agree with Random in the spiritual mentor portion of this. If this guy is speaking out so vehemently about these things, why would one choose to have him as a leader in one’s life, unless one believed the arguments at least in part?

    However, admittedly it’s a weak argument that Obama must support it because he’s waited this long to denounce it. One doesn’t normally denounce things that aren’t an issue, because it risks making them into an issue. Perhaps Obama truly does have an issue with that aspect of Wright, and he simply didn’t come out and say as much because he didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he has a close relationship with a man he disagrees with? Or, since it’s a close friend, perhaps he didn’t want to have to call him out in public?

    Assuming we haven’t witnessed every instance of the interaction between the men, it’s entirely possible that Obama has voiced his concerns to Wright in private, but the two have been able to smooth over those issues and move to a constructive relationship. I think there’s enough reasoning to at least assume Obama’s not lying entirely when he says he denounces it outright.

    That doesn’t entirely make up for the long-term following thing. But it does to a good extent justify his admittedly exaggerated denouncement of certain aspects of Wright’s ideologies.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    Mar 15, 2008 @ 06:04:42

    Random:
    Politically, this is a real problem for Obama. It’s now probably the biggest obstacle between him and the Democratic nomination, and the presidency after that.

    But Barack Obama did not say, “God damn America.” Barack Obama did not imply that America brought 9-11 on itself. Barack Obama is not fomenting hatred of rich white people.

    I think the logical outcome of your argument is that no black person can become President. At least, no black person with any significant ties to his community.

    I don’t mean to imply that you personally are racist, because I’m sure you’re not. I’m merely asking you to think through the implications of your position.

    The USA has a deplorable history vis-à-vis its African-American population. It starts with slavery, but it certainly doesn’t end there. I’ve seen photographs from the 1960s of water fountains marked “whites only” and churches with separate entrances for blacks and whites. Not to mention lynchings.

    Then there’s the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ghettos. Chronic unemployment and poverty. The disproportionate number of blacks in prison or executed for their crimes. The beating of Rodney King.

    And I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, since I didn’t grow up as a black person in the USA.

    The 1960s! During my lifetime, and I’m hardly an old man! And of course, racism and discrimination persists in America, even if it is now relatively hidden. So what kind of militancy would you expect to find among African American leaders of Wright’s generation?

    Wright was born in 1941. He came of age during the 1960s: when racism was brazen, as I have just indicated. Surprise, surprise, he’s got a big chip on his shoulder when it comes to rich, powerful white people!

    Barack Obama doesn’t think that’s the whole measure of the man. Maybe you disagree — maybe you think that’s all the information you need about Jeremiah Wright to form an opinion of him. You’re entitled to your opinion, even if it is based only on the worst aspects of Wright’s character. Sometimes that’s an appropriate way to arrive at a judgment.

    But any 47-year-old black man with significant ties to the African American community is going to have a Rev. Wright, an Al Sharpton, or a Louis Farrakhan in his circle of associates. Because a 47-year-old black man has inevitably been exposed to those people as leaders of the African American community. Because if you add even ten years to Obama’s age, you arrive at a generation that grew up immersed in the most blatant and ugly forms of racism and discrimination.

    You might as well conclude that no black man can become President. Not for another generation or two, at least. Or not unless you pick a black person who has no actual ties to the black community, but has repudiated his/her own race.

    I think it’s appalling that you would judge Barack Obama on the company he keeps. I appeal to you, instead, to judge him based on his own words and actions. Read his biography, “Dreams From My Father”. (I’m about half way through it, and I haven’t come across any “God damn America!” sentiments thus far.) Read Obama’s speeches, or watch them on Youtube. “There isn’t a white America and a black America, there is only the United States of America.”

    I don’t expect John McCain and the Republican attack machine to be fair-minded about this issue. And I don’t expect any kind of nuance from the American public, either. That’s why this is a huge political problem for Obama.

    But, Random, I do hope for better things from you. Judge Obama on his own words and deeds, not on someone else’s. And remember: in the thundering denunciations of African American leaders like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, America is merely reaping what it sowed.

    (Which is not to say that America reaped what it sowed on 9-11. I don’t believe that. But with respect to militancy among African American leaders? — absolutely, America has brought that bitter harvest upon itself.)

    nebcanuck:
    If this guy is speaking out so vehemently about these things, why would one choose to have him as a leader in one’s life, unless one believed the arguments at least in part?

    I don’t have an answer to that question. On the other hand, I’m not going to judge Obama on that basis, since I didn’t grow up as a black person in a racially-polarized USA.

    You may think it’s a hopeless inconsistency, but I think it’s accurate to conclude, based on the evidence:
    (1) that Obama has chosen Rev. Wright as a spiritual leader in his life; and
    (2) that Obama doesn’t share Rev. Wright’s opinion when Wright says things like, “God damn America”.

    It’s also worth quoting Wright in context: “God damn America for treating its citizens as less than human.” It’s a qualified condemnation, not a blanket condemnation.

    Reply

  4. Jack
    Mar 16, 2008 @ 13:23:53

    However, admittedly it’s a weak argument that Obama must support it because he’s waited this long to denounce it. One doesn’t normally denounce things that aren’t an issue, because it risks making them into an issue.

    I can’t buy that. An indication of our character is whether we stay silent when outrageous things are said or if we speak out.

    In good conscience I cannot say that his association with this man speaks to the full measure of who Obama is, but I can say that creates many questions.

    It is just one more reason why I don’t think that he is ready to be POTUS. Note, I said ready. I didn’t say that I don’t think he can ever do it, just not now.

    Reply

  5. Random
    Mar 18, 2008 @ 15:33:37

    Sorry for the tardy reply, been offline for a few days…

    “I think the logical outcome of your argument is that no black person can become President. At least, no black person with any significant ties to his community.”

    Oh, nonsense. To take one obvious example, the only reason Colin Powell didn’t become president in 2000 was because he didn’t want to run – the Republican party was virtually on it’s knees to him at the time begging him to. And you would be pushed to either imagine him saying any of this sort of stuff or associating with the sort of people or do. But then I suppose by your standards he would count as not having any significant ties to the African American community (despite being head of the US Army at a time when African Americans formed something like a third of it’s strength and the army had a strong reputation as the most successfully integrated institution in the US – the African American community is more than just Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton and their fan clubs). And for the record my first choice for the presidency this time round (until she made it clear she wasn’t going to run) was Condoleeza Rice, but then I suspect she doesn’t have “any significant ties” either. (As a non-American, my main concern for a US president is how competently they can be trusted to handle foreign policy, and I thought both Powell and Rice were head and shoulders above the competition on this respect.)

    “Wright was born in 1941. He came of age during the 1960s: when racism was brazen, as I have just indicated. Surprise, surprise, he’s got a big chip on his shoulder when it comes to rich, powerful white people!”

    And Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929. Can you seriously imagine any of Wright’s more toxic opinions coming out of his mouth? And yes, I accept that not everyone can be an MLK, but it also true that not everyone has to be a Jeremiah Wright either. And nor does every ambitious black politician have to seek him out.

    “I think it’s appalling that you would judge Barack Obama on the company he keeps. I appeal to you, instead, to judge him based on his own words and actions.”

    But Stephen, his choice of church and spiritual advisor *are* actions we can judge him by, and the many statements he has given praising Wright over the years *are* his own words. For goodness sake, Obama picked Wright to preside over his own wedding!

    “I don’t mean to imply that you personally are racist, because I’m sure you’re not. I’m merely asking you to think through the implications of your position.”

    And back at you Stephen, because I’m not sure you’ve thought through the implications of your position either. Are you seriously saying that African Americans have been so diminished by their bitter history that they are not capable of anything other than bigotry or rage or hate-filled conspiracy theories, and that we therefore have to accept that the Farrakhans and Sharptons and Wrights are normal, mainstream figures? This is the soft racism of low expectations, and I genuinely do believe you are better than that.

    Stephen, as you know I sided with you when the Farrakhan smear first came up (and I gave Obama a pass on Sharpton when you were declaring yourself unhappy about the degree of familiarity shown). I thought at the time that Obama couldn’t be smeared with the Farrakhan connection because, although Wright was clearly a friend of Farrakhan, there was no evidence he shared any of Farrakhan’s more extreme views, and that whereas Obama can pick his friends, he cannot pick his friend’s friends. However that evidence has now surfaced and we now know the sort of person Barack Obama seeks spiritual guidance from.

    Having said that, do I believe Obama shares these views? On balance, no. However, do I believe that Obama sees these views as unacceptable in civilised company? Sadly, the answer now appears to be no here too. And a question for all of us – do we believe that a person who views opinions like those Wright holds as being merely the sort of thing about which civilised men can disagree but say nothing fundamental about the character of the man, rather than as something to be denounced and resisted at every opportunity, as somebody who is fit to be President of the United States?

    Let me give you a hypothetical – if a senior Republican who was running for president declared himself to be a friend and admirer of, say, David Duke for the last 20 years but reserved the right to disagree with his views on racial matters would you be giving him the same latitude you’re giving Obama? If not, why not?

    Reply

  6. Stephen
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 10:03:12

    I’m not going to respond in detail to your argument. I think we basically agree on the objective data, but we have a different subjective response to it. It’s hard to resolve those kind of disagreements.

    I will say this much, however. What you’re seeing on Youtube represents a total of what, 45 seconds of Rev. Wright’s sermons? From a period of what, a ten-year span?

    Obama says that’s not the complete measure of the man. That in face-to-face discussions, Wright never said anything derogatory of any race. That the ministry of Trinity United is all about assisting the poor and marginalized people of Chicago, particularly (one assumes) its marginalized black folks.

    And Obama says it was that practical, social-justice orientation that he admired and respected about Rev. Wright. In other words, he didn’t ask Wright to officiate at his wedding because he loved Wright’s political views. And that’s what you’re implying — that Wright’s racism was a core part of Obama’s affection for the man. Thus, here:

    Are you seriously saying that African Americans have been so diminished by their bitter history that they are not capable of anything other than bigotry or rage or hate-filled conspiracy theories?

    No, I’m not saying that. I don’t think it’s fair to define Rev. Wright by the handful of hate-filled remarks that are circulating on Youtube. It’s one, objectionable element of the man’s psyche — but not more than that.

    That’s why Obama talks about his white grandmother as a parallel example. She said racist stuff, too, but it wasn’t the whole measure of the woman. Obama looked past that part of her character and loved her despite of it, because he knows other parts of her history are more core to her as a person.

    Ditto, Wright. Is that argument so difficult to follow, or so implausible?

    Meantime, I’m able to sympathize with the kind of anger expressed by Wright. Call it soft racism if you like. But I think blacks of his generation have just cause to be a little bitter — don’t you?

    Reply

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