Obama Should Disown Wright
As with most of the mini-scandals that have surrounded this campaign season, I have mostly dismissed the nutty remarks of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I’ve taken as a given — and continue to take as a given — that Barack Obama, raised in a different era and with the advantages of a first class education, simply sees the world in a different way than his erstwhile “spiritual mentor.” Further, I’ve argued against the idea that Obama should repudiate Wright, contending that “throwing him under the bus” for political expediency would be unseemly.
After hearing Wright’s most recent remarks at the National Press Club via NPR this morning, though, I’m inclined to agree with Andrew Sullivan.
Wright’s cooptation of Obama for his own agenda – his assertion that Obama’s distancing from him is insincere – requires, in fact demands a response from Obama.
We need a speech or statement from Obama in which he utterly repudiates this poison, however personally difficult that may be, however damaging the impact will be. The statement today will not do it. This is no longer about cynics trying to associate one man’s politics with another. It is now about Wright attempting to associate himself and some of his noxious, stupid, rancid views with the likely Democratic nominee. Wright has given Obama no choice – and he has also given him another opportunity. He needs to seize it.
Andrew is referencing Wright’s repeated assertion that Obama is only doing “what politicians do” in denouncing Wright’s more ugly comments. This will be, quite reasonably, read as “Obama actually believes all this but has to deny it to get elected.”
A month ago, denouncing Wright the man would have been precisely what Wright is now accusing Obama of doing: dishonesty for the sake of political expediency. At this point, though, Wright has lost whatever loyalty he’s earned. And Obama should make it clear, without equivocation, that he doesn’t abide these comments. Something along the lines of, “It’s nonsense, it’s nonsense, it’s nonsense, it’s nonsense, it’s nonsense. I don’t have anything additional to say. It’s nonsense, it’s nonsense, it’s nonsense, I don’t have anything more to say….it’s nonsense. I reject it categorically” would be nice.
UPDATE (Alex Knapp): For the record, I agree with James on the above. Obama did make a statement yesterday:
“I think certainly what the last three days indicate is that we’re not coordinating with him. He’s obviously free to speak his mind, but I just want to emphasize [that] he is my former pastor. Many of the statements he made both to trigger this initial controversy, and that he’s made over the last couple days are not statements that I heard him make previously. They don’t represent my views and they don’t represent what this campaign is about.”
Frankly, given the complicated relationship that Obama has with Wright, I wonder if we’ll get much more than this out of Obama. As Ross Douthat (no Obama supporter he) mentions, this has to be a rather painful thing for Obama:
But I will say this: Whatever one thinks of how Obama’s choice of pastor should bear on his qualifications for the Presidency, it’s hard to feel anything but pity for the junior Senator from Illinois after watching Wright’s disgustingly narcissistic display over the last few days. Obama has compared his pastor to a crazy uncle, but I suspect – based on how he’s talked about his minister, how he’s written about him, and how people tend to think about their spiritual mentors – that if he were being completely honest, he’d describe Wright as closer to a father-figure instead. And now, as if being abandoned by his biological dad wasn’t bad enough, he’s lugging a quintessential Bad Father through his Presidential campaign – a pure creep straight out of an Augusten Burroughs memoir, who’s happy to sabotage a younger, finer man who might just be the first black President of the United States in the hopes of feeding his own ego and becoming … what? The next Al Sharpton? The next Willie Horton? How vile and pathetic.
I don’t think anybody who cares to look truly believes that Obama shares any of Wright’s extreme views. It’s clear from reading Obama’s books that what attracted him to Wright was the latter’s real Christian ministry to the poor and abandoned. And having grown up in the Catholic Church, for me the idea that the views of the clergy can be ascribed to the members of the church is pretty laughable–even if you see a member of that clergy as a mentor. Still, it’s pretty clear that as a matter of politics, Obama needs to do more. The question is: will he?
And the other question I have that this whole election cycle raises is this–to what extent is a candidate going to be held responsible for views that a friend or relative might hold going into future election cycles? Are we going to, as a country, start demanding candidates who are have so scrubbed every element of humanity out of their lives that even their drinking buddies won’t say anything controversial?
UPDATE (James Joyner): Todd Gitlin, of all people, joins in: “Obama has to overthrow his surrogate father.”
UPDATE (James Joyner): OTB gets results: “Obama Denounces Wright Comments“