Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (6)

So much transpired in the few days following Bill Moyers’ interview with Jeremiah Wright, not to mention the fallout afterward. Wright spoke at a meeting of the NAACP, followed by an infamous engagement at the National Press Club, after which Barack Obama forcefully dissociated himself from Wright, citing outrageous statements by Wright.

How outrageous was Wright, exactly? Is he the total maniac the brief video clip of him shouting “God damn America!” purportedly shows him to be?

Moyers gave Wright the opportunity to contextualize his remarks and explain his views. Moyers addressed the double standard by which Wright and right-wing white preachers are judged owing entirely to race and provided some needed balance in his follow-up statement:

Bill Moyers: Welcome to the Journal, May 2, 2008.

Moyers contrasted the reasonable and rational dialogue he had with Wright on April 25 with what he called the “politics of personal destruction” on May 2, the likes of which he had never seen. Moyers was on target in redressing the imbalance, yet he did not delve to the bottom of the Wright affair. No one in the mass media I have yet encountered has systematically addressed just what is wrong with Wright.

Obama himself declined to explain the discrepancy between the Wright he knew and the “outrageous” behavior he witnessed in this press conference. Wright is so outrageous that his remarks are shunned by “every American”. Obama must know this is not quite true, but this is politics. Wright’s denunciation of American foreign policy is hardly outrageous. However, his characterization of the cause-and-effect relationships between American actions and the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01 is highly imprecise, and furthermore, mystified by his transmutation of the facts into theology. Offensive, though not necessarily crazy, is Wright’s characterization of 9-11 as the “chickens coming home to roost.” Perhaps Wright is a Malcolm X wannabe, Malcolm having characterized the JFK assassination in just this way. A more accurate descriptive term for 9-11 would be “blowback”. The phraseology of “chickens coming home to roost” in conjunction with the tone in which it was delivered carries the connotation that the people killed in 9-11 got what they deserved, but in fact, the chickens have faulty navigation skills and never quite arrive at home to roost. People in power don’t often pay for their crimes: cannon fodder and civilians do.

We can fault Wright for his offensive remarks, though not for his hostility to American foreign policy, which hardly is anathema to every American as Obama claimed. Where, then, does Wright definitively cross the border into outrageousness? Objectively, his offenses are these:

(1) His unsubstantiated folk paranoia about the U.S. government giving AIDS to blacks;

(2) His crackpot remarks about black learning style and left brain/right brain thinking;

(3) His defense of the anti-Semitic, separatist fascist Louis Farrakhan;

(4) His megalomaniacal claim that an attack on him is an attack on the black church.

Bill Moyers, while otherwise commendable, does not venture into these telltale signs of the underlying ideology of Wright and the numerous black nationalist crackpots among and outside of the black clergy who think like this.

Wright’s outburst at the National Press Club may have singlehandedly cost Obama the presidency. White people are, after all, chronically insecure, and panic more at the slightest aggressive gesture on the part of a black person than at the Caucasian monsters and lunatics that abound in their midst. The post-mortem conducted by Charlie Rose is worth scrutinizing with care:

A discussion about Barack Obama & Rev. Jeremiah Wright with James Clyburn,

Sally Quinn, Floyd Flake. Further discussion about Race, Religion and Politics.

Flake and Clyburn were quite measured and precise in their statements, knowing well what damage Wright was wreaking upon Obama. Flake was a congressman and remains a minister. Clyburn is a congressman and—my memory is shaky—may be a preacher as well. Flake denied that Wright could claim the right to equate himself with the black church as a whole. Naturally, none of the participants in the discussion were about to criticize the institution of the black church per se.

Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, a white woman who monitors the current dominance of religion in public discourse, was remarkably sympathetic to the black situation, but she missed the mark on a couple of important points. She contrasted the rational content of Wright’s speech with his responses during the Q & A during which he went haywire. He seemed to be off-center in his outlandish responses to questions posed to him. Quinn’s sensitivity to this discrepancy, however, fails to account for its root cause. Quinn made one other remark that proves that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When the question of Obama’s biracial composition was brought up, Quinn responded with her knowledge of the one-drop rule: in America, if you’re part black, you’re black. Flake nodded. This remark, however, is not as sophisticated as Quinn would like to think. Even if both your parents are black, and you are definitely black according to our racial classification system, your viewpoint is not thereby automatically secured. But if one your parents is not classified as black, even if other people classify you as black, you definitely do not experience your world in the same way as “real” black people, especially if you are raised by the white side of your family. Quinn’s remark, in this light, is actually quite stupid. Obama’s association with a nationalist like Wright most assuredly requires some explanation. Maybe Obama’s nonbelieving white mother is up in heaven as Obama assures us, but what must she think of her son joining an Afrocentric church whose preacher is a fan of Louis Farrakhan. No biracial child is going to put up with the likes of a separatist crackpot bigot like Farrakhan. Either Obama is a total opportunist and his conversion to Christianity is a pose, or the impact that Wright had on him exposes another weakness in his character. There is much about Obama’s attitude towards an institution he originally must have found quite alien that is probably not too distant from that of the typically stupid white liberal or white leftist who feels obligated to underwrite black ignorance out of a sense of political or moral deference. This weakness hardly disqualifies Obama for the presidency, especially given the demonstrably low standards of both the American presidency and the white American electorate, but it is a pressure point worth probing. Note, then, this discussion of the question:

Why'd Obama Join Trinity in the First Place?
The New Republic,

In the next installment I shall continue to pursue the fallout from the Wright-Obama affair, with an emphasis on the difference between the analysis of two irreligionists, Adolph Reed, Jr., a black leftist, and Christopher Hitchens, a white former leftist turned warmonger and unprincipled gasbag.

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