Conservatives ought to be careful before they insist that Barack Obama further renounce his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. This vicious guilt-by-association political game cuts both ways.
The left has used this game to marginalize conservatives. In 1993, the Rev. Eugene Lumpkin was fired from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission because he said he believed the Bible told him that "the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination against God." This year, critics called on GOP nominee John McCain to denounce supporter Pastor John Hagee, who called the Catholic Church "the great whore."
McCain said he did not agree with all of Hagee's views and later specifically repudiated Hagee's anti-Catholic rhetoric. As McCain told Fox News' Sean Hannity last week, "I think that when people support you, it doesn't mean that you support everything they say."
Obama's condemnation last week of Wright's over-the-top and downright racist statements should settle the matter as well -- especially as Wright is retiring from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and no longer is one of Obama's many campaign advisers. Yes, I know what Wright has said. In 2003, Wright accused the American government of funding the drug trade and told his congregation not to sing "God Bless America," but instead, "God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people." Wright called the 9/11 attacks an example of "America's chickens coming home to roost." His church gave anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan a lifetime achievement award.
Obama has praised Wright as a former Marine who lovingly "preached the gospel of Jesus." Maybe. But Wright clearly had a strong hate streak going. You don't crow that the 9/11 victims essentially got what was coming, and not -- at some level, anyway -- hate America.
I have white friends who argue that they would walk out of a church where the minister spouted hatred against racial minorities; hence, they expect that Obama would do the same.They note that Obama considered Wright a mentor and that the senator was a member of Wright's church for some 20 years -- which suggests a close spiritual relationship, even if the Obamas were one family among 8,500 Sunday worshipers.
I appreciate their point, but they ignore a certain reality about being black in America. To wit: In certain venues, a black man is going to hear anti-white comments from African Americans who have not had the extra something it takes to get ahead in this world. After a while, the buzz becomes background noise. That doesn't mean Obama buys into all their grievances -- although he probably believes some and understands more.
Of course, most white voters don't want to elect a president who bears them ill will. That's why Jesse Jackson was never viable. He overplayed the race card. He sang a one-note whine of endless victimhood, which gave little recognition to the many opportunities now open to black Americans. On the other hand, Obama is a viable candidate because he is a black man with a foot in two worlds. With his Harvard law degree and Senate seat, Barack appeals to white America as a black success story. But even if Obama has grown beyond grievances, that doesn't mean Obama has moved beyond recognizing the grievances of underclass African Americans, who have fared less well in a world that can look at them with hostility.
"Obama should be held accountable for his beliefs," Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., told reporters during a press call Monday. And: "To go beyond that I just don't think is fair."
Durbin is right. I hope he remembers those words the next time he wants to dump on a GOP supporter who talks outside the party lines. Not that I expect Durbin to resist the Democrats' double standards.
Here's the problem with the renunciation game. If it succeeds, you cut away nonpolitical people from a candidate -- until only the carefully scripted professional political class has access to elected officials. You drive average citizens who speak their minds away from the process, so that only the nakedly ambitious need apply.
I've written whole columns against America haters who blamed this country -- instead of the terrorists -- for the 9/11 attacks. If Wright were running for office, he would get the full treatment for his race-baiting and delusional ramblings and for rhetoric that ill serves Chicago's black community. But as long as Wright is not drafting policy for Obama, he is entitled to his uninformed opinion.