We have been told, by no less an authority than Sen. Barack Obama himself, that the recently retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright has been his pastor and spiritual adviser for the past 20 years. Wright officiated at Obama's marriage and baptized his children. There is simply no arguing about the closeness of the two men, or about the influential role Wright has played in Obama's life.
And then, in March, millions of Americans watched on television as Wright unloaded himself on the subject of the United States of America, whose president Obama aspires to be. Wright told his parishioners (who could be seen in the background applauding his remarks) that the U.S. government had engineered the AIDS epidemic to kill black people, and worked up to a peroration in which he resoundingly rejected the slogan "God bless America." No, he thundered: The right view was "God Damn America!" His parishioners roared their approval.
Needless to say, when questioned by reporters, Obama wasted no time distancing himself from those sentiments. He not only disagreed with them, he asserted, but if they had ever been uttered in his hearing at a service of his church, he would have felt obliged to leave the church. The United States has its defects, but its virtues far outweigh those defects.
Obama's repudiation of Wright's statements was absolutely essential if he intends to be a serious candidate for president. And speaking for myself, I do not for a moment doubt that the repudiation was perfectly sincere. Obama has a great many views I disagree with (probably including some I am not even aware of), but I do not doubt that he has a thoroughly balanced, sophisticated and sympathetic general view of the United States, in which hallucinations like Wright's have no place at all.
But the American people can be forgiven for suspecting that there is more here than Obama is letting on. Wright's comments on the United States weren't unleashed in the course of a drunken party or a fiery debate. They were part and parcel of a serious statement -- probably in the course of a sermon -- addressed to the members of his church, and were received by them, enthusiastically, as such. If Obama didn't hear them, it simply beggars belief that Obama could have associated with Wright so closely over a period of 20 years without being present, again and again, when Wright worked himself up to comparable frenzies and let fly to comparable effect. And while I have no doubt (to repeat myself) that the senator disagreed with such statements, it is inevitable that he sat there and tolerated them, and did not walk out, let alone dissociate himself from the pastor or church in which they were uttered.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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