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.