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If Wright Were White

Leonce Gaiter believes that ,”If Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his former disciple, Barack Obama were white, this would not be a story.” He contends that, “White pastors have been spewing hateful bile and filth for generations. But it’s white bile, and that makes all the difference.”

Ezra Klein disagrees slightly, arguing, “Americans recoil from the Chomskyite critique, and any Democratic candidate whose personal relationships implied a sympathy for that worldview would have a tough time of it.”

But I read Gaiter as saying something different than that. If a white pastor were saying exactly what Wright did, it would be, frankly, really strange. Even in the most liberal circles, not many white preachers are likely to think that AmeriKKKa is deliberately infecting blacks with the AIDS virus and so forth. Rather, Gaiter is arguing that it would not be news if a white pastor proclaimed the white equivalent of Wright’s views.

There, I think, he’s wrong. Indeed, I think the backlash would be much, much stronger. We’re simply more tolerant of racism and anti-Americanism coming from an elderly black man than from a white man because there’s a sense that our history entitled them to a certain bitterness.

Gaiter is correct that “white pastors have been spewing hateful bile and filth for generations.” But we’re not talking about some random yahoo behind a pulpit but rather a close associate and mentor of a leading contender for the presidency. If a white presidential candidate had sat in a pulpit listening to this sort of nonsense for two decades — and the church put out videos — you bet we’d hear about it.

Look at all the controversy that ensues when, for example, Republican candidates make a speech at Bob Jones University. In those cases, the politician is merely giving a speech. Even the more mainstream nonsense put out by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and James Dobson is heavily scrutinized — and rightly so — and candidates who are endorsed by these people are called on to renounce the more asinine comments.

Barack Obama has benefited tremendously by being a tabula rasa. His lack of experience and public record has mostly worked to his advantage until now. He’s a friendly, inspiring, fresh face upon whom people can project their own hopes, dreams, and values. Now, though, as he gets much closer to being the Democratic nominee, he’s coming under heavier scrutiny. And any damaging information is more powerful than it would otherwise be simply because people know relatively little about him.

My guess remains that he’ll mostly put this behind him and win the nomination and that it’ll have a marginal impact by the time the general election rolls around. If the race is close, with marginal outcomes in a handful of states deciding the outcome, this could be one of the things that decides it. But a dozen other issues and events will likely have a greater bearing on the outcome.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Substitute David Duke for Jeremiah Wright and McCain for Obama and then tell me this wouldn’t be a story. There isn’t a hill of beans difference between the message of Duke and Wright except that they come come different sides of the color spectrum. The fact that Wright is a “pastor”(?) is irrelevant. Hell, Trent Lott gives makes an oblique reference to Strom Thurmond’s past in a complimentary way and he is nearly tarred and feathered for it.

    Gaiter’s analysis is a load of crap.

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  2. Bithead says:

    (Sigh) Oh, please….

    And, James…

    Leonce Gaiter believes that ,”If Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his former disciple, Barack Obama were white, this would not be a story.” He contends that, “White pastors have been spewing hateful bile and filth for generations. But it’s white bile, and that makes all the difference.”

    Mmmph. No question that there’d be a different reaction, were they both white… but then again, there’s a name we call whites that spew anti-white hatred: We call them ‘liberals’. Americans are used to that nonsense, by now.

    As it is, Obama for all of his ‘uniter’ nonsense, is using the charge of racism, because it’s easier than actually intelectual honesty.

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  3. Michael says:

    There, I think, he’s wrong. Indeed, I think the backlash would be much, much stronger. We’re simply more tolerant of racism and anti-Americanism coming from an elderly black man than from a white man because there’s a sense that our history entitled them to a certain bitterness.

    It’s not the bitterness, it’s the history that you cannot separate from the context.

    Look, just recently the USA was thinking about bringing Georgia (the country) under it’s military umbrella, and nobody over here thought twice about it. Now if Russia had been planning on doing exactly that, we’d all be talking about another USSR.

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  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    I suppose I would qualify as coming from a ‘white church’ (we are about 65% white, 30% Hispanic, 4% black and 1% Asian). And I can think of several things that might be considered ‘controversial’ that have been preached.

    As the Bible discusses God knowing us even in the womb, it is pretty hard to make the case that abortion isn’t putting self before others. On the left, this is considered hate speech. Within the church I attend the morality of abortion is left to the individual conscience of the Christian, but I have heard multiple sermons for the biblical case against abortion.

    I have heard the case against homosexuality from a biblical standpoint. Again, the church leaves the morality of the issue to the individual conscience. I can’t remember any sermons for or against homosexuality. I can remember sermons against any extra-marital sex (either before or during marriage). There have also been sermons on divorce not being the biblical answer to marital problems.

    We weekly pray for ending the war in Iraq/Afghanistan and for the safety of the troops serving (those from the congregation are lifted up by name). Note that there is no prayer for pulling out before the job is done, nor staying until the job is done.

    There is often calls for setting your values based on Christ’s example, not on cultural norms. So the question is often raised as to the relative influence ‘Hollywood’ is having in your life vs Christ.

    I have heard sermons on not picking and choosing parts of the Bible to believe and ignore. This has led to examples like creationism vs evolution which people can differ on.

    There recently was a sermon on the biblical message that the only path to eternal salvation was through Jesus. The pastor pointed out that this flies in the face of multi-cultural ism and political correctness. This is a question of individual belief. Those who don’t believe now are welcomed and encourage to believe going forward. So it is not us condemning unbelievers, but pointing out what we believe is the impact of the unbelief.

    In none of these have I heard calls for disunity. The sin is separated from the sinner. To put it another way, the path to sanctification is pointed out and those who fall short are exhorted to put their past behind them and move forward as a new person in Christ. The sinner is not condemned or ridiculed, but the forgiveness of sins is preached weekly.

    So while I can imagine people, especially on the left, not being comfortable with what is preached. But I can’t imagine anything like Wright’s sweeping condemnation of people based on the color of their skin, the country they belong to or the like. Conspiracy theories like aids being created by the US government to kill minorities would not be received.

    To put it another way, outside of democrat Fred Phelps church, I can’t think of any ‘white church’ that is even close to Wright. But like Wright, Fred’s message is more about hate of those who are different rather than acceptance and love of all.

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  5. just me says:

    I am willing to bet that a presidential candidate who was a member of Fred Phelps church for even a month would be deemed unacceptable by the vast majority of republicans much less voters in general.

    I also think being a 20 year member of Jerry Falwell’s church would be a story and hurt the candidate to some degree.

    And other than Obama’s association with Wright I am not really convinced Wright in and of himself and the outlandish things he has said would be considered a news story in the sense that Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson’s words are made into stories.

    So I don’t think I am buying this argument. I don’t think there would have been a peep to this story had Obama only gotten Wright’s endorsement and not been a 20 year member-I think the real story is who Obama chose as pastor rather than who is endorsing who.

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  6. Bithead says:

    Before anyone gets the wrong idea, my (Oh, please) was directed at a comment that was (rightly) killed off

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  7. DL says:

    If history is the excuse, how is it that the Irish, the Poles, the Chinese, the Italians etc, who were excoriated for being different and lesser creatures, have overcome history? The blacks seemed to be functioning reasonably well until the Great Society tore their families asunder and made them permanent government sponsored victims and theirrace pimps like Wright kept agitating against whitey and not holding them responsible for their own lives.

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  8. David R. Block says:

    If white pastors have been doing that for decades, then they haven’t been doing that in my hearing.

    Of course, I can’t keep track of everyone, but you would think that I might have run into at least 1 in Texas and Louisiana if it is that widespread.

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  9. Bithead says:

    They must have been saying stuff like that on the same days they were burning black Churches.

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  10. Grewgills says:

    The blacks seemed to be functioning reasonably well until the Great Society tore their families asunder and made them permanent government sponsored victims

    Really? African Americans were doing just dandy until 1965 with the Great Society programs and the abolishment of Jim Crowe laws?

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  11. C.Wagener says:

    Any white guy that made a speech like Wright’s NAACP address on Sunday would be excoriated. White brains and Black brains are different? What century is this guy from?

    And on a different point, when I first saw the Wright sermon clips I was more disturbed by the obvious agreement of the audience. One idiot spewing nonsense is one thing, having a thousand people from a neighborhood agree is revolting.

    Vote Obama, because, while he hasn’t done jack-shit, he’s got great judgment!

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  12. tom p says:

    George Bush and Bob Jones University, Rev. John Hagee and John McCain, Barack Obama and Rev. Wright…

    You excuse one, while you villify the other.

    Jerry Falwell said that 9/11 was the direct result of American’s acceptance of gay life styles,(I, for the life of me, can see acceptance in very few places) everyone said he was just a crank. Rev Wright said AIDS was introduced by the US Gov’t (in light of the syphillis experiments… fill in the blank)…

    One is an angry, hateful black man, and anyone associated with him must feel the same way(by the by, this “angry black man did 2 tours in Nam), the other is a crank who says some pretty wild things from time to time, but nobody takes it serious (except for the voters who follow their every word which “we” must therefor pander to)(and I would bet dollars to donuts, did 0 tours in Nam)….

    C’mon guys… John McCain has been on this planet for 70 plus years, d’ya really think he does not know what John Hagee stands for?

    Give me a break. You are either willfully blind, stupid, or think I am. The truth is, you are afraid of the angry black man but have no problem with the angry white man.

    I could say more, but ’nuff said.

    tom

    from small town middle America where my black friends won’t come.

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