No "Wright" Explanation

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 18, 2008 11:52 AM
The text of the speech is here.  Ultimately, however, the issue is a simple one.  Barack Obama attended Jeremiah Wright's church for more than twenty  years, was baptized by him, married by him and had his children baptized by him.   For a long time, a person who damns America was an important part of the Obamas' lives, and was not repudiated until it became politically necessary.   When all Barack's oratory about the matter has been set aside, that's either acceptable to a voter or it isn't. 

Knowing Barack, I don't believe that he himself shares Jeremiah Wright's views -- at least in the way they've been presented.   Barack himself doesn't hate America, I don't think.  But he's part of the liberal, "post-patriotism" elite.  You know, the kind who finds it demeaning to wear an American flag pin -- and defines "true patriotism" as the willingness to "speak[] out on issues that are of importance to our national security.”  And the kind who sees himself more as a "citizen of the world" than just a plain old American, first, foremost and forever.

Chances are that Barack joined Wright's church to establish a political base and find a way to gain a toehold into a community he intended to organize.   And then he stayed because he didn't find Wright's rhetoric particularly offensive, even if he didn't necessarily agree with it.  After all, Wright has said very little that one can't hear in the most radical corners of Ivy League universities.  And because the oratory didn't particularly surprise or offend Barack, he was entirely able to look beyond it to embrace Wright as a "spiritual advisor."

With all this, it's still a fair question: Knowing the nature of the oratory -- and the political damage it could do -- why didn't Obama leave the church for the same reason (political advancement) he joined?  And to that, the answer may be two-fold.

First, it would be interesting to know Michelle Obama's views on Wright.  Given some of her earlier remarks and even the topic of her senior thesis, it's worth asking whether her views on race in America might be a bit more confrontational than her husband's (reflecting, perhaps, the perspective of a descendant of slaves, versus the experience of the son of a Kenyan dignitary).

Second, the Obamas may have decided at some point that the political damage that would be inflicted by leaving the church (and creating the perception that they were trying to "move on up" away from their home church and distance themselves from their community) would be greater than simply taking the heat for Wright.  They may  have stayed so as not to jeopardize their base.

Whatever the reason, here's why this is so hard to explain away.  Whether the vitriolic anti-American remarks were simply insufficiently offensive to Barack, or whether they were offensive but outweighed by personal political considerations, there's simply no justification for them.  Ultimately, the whole messy episode does either his judgment or else his character no credit.  And there's no spinning that away.