In the first sermon Barack Obama ever heard from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor railed against "white folks' greed," the bombing of Hiroshima and "the callousness of policymakers in the White House and in the statehouse." For Obama, the experience was formative. The sermon's title, "The Audacity of Hope," became the title of Obama's second book and the theme of his presidential campaign.
Now that videotapes have surfaced of Wright's more scorching diatribes -- arguing that America deserved 9/11, exclaiming "God damn America" for spreading drugs in the black community, and declaring the U.S. the "US-KKK-a" -- Obama professes shock, even though he attended the church for nearly two decades and Wright was his spiritual mentor. Evidently, Obama wants us to believe they never talked about anything besides the Gospel and the weather.
Nothing is so unbecoming as a beacon of the new politics resorting to such naked evasion. Obama adviser David Axelrod tried to tell reporters on a conference call that a reason Wright was disinvited from giving the invocation at Obama's announcement speech in February 2007 was that it was so cold, the program had to be shortened.
Axelrod quickly admitted they kept Wright from the podium because he was potentially controversial. He was loath to do it because it means Obama knew about Wright's venom well before he expressed surprise and dismay over the videotapes. Given that black liberation theology -- inherently anti-white and hostile to America as a repository of white sinfulness -- underlays the Rev. Wright's ministry, there couldn't have been any escaping it.
When Wright loosed his broadsides against the United States, members of the congregation didn't look at each other awkwardly because their pastor had said something uncharacteristic and embarrassing. Instead, they erupted in paroxysms of affirmation; they were used to such statements and enjoyed them.
Of course Obama knew of Wright's commitment to "social justice" (read racialism and anti-Americanism). It's why the Rev. Wright told The New York Times last April: "If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen."
But just three weeks ago, when asked about his church at a campaign event, Obama replied: "I don't think that my church is actually particularly controversial. It is a member of the United Church of Christ. It's got a choir. We sing hymnals. We talk about scripture. You would feel at home if you were there." At least if you didn't mind vitriolic ravings with your Bible readings.
The Rev. Wright drives a wedge into the central contradiction of Obama's campaign -- an orthodox liberal politician who rose to prominence in a left-wing milieu in Chicago and has never broken with his party on anything of consequence is campaigning on unifying the country. There is nothing particularly unifying about Obama's past and his voting record. The senator has risen on his words, and will be hard-pressed to talk his way out of his long, jarring association with the gleefully divisive Rev. Jeremiah Wright.