With terms like “unAmerican”, “controversial” and “judgment” floating around willy nilly, I thought it might be helpful to provide a thorough outline of why this is such a problem for Senator Obama.
Taking the most recent denunciation of Reverend Wright’s recent comments, there are two ways to look at yesterday’s developments. The first is that Obama didn’t know of Reverend Wright’s controversial views, and is genuinely shocked hearing them now. The second is that Obama knew about Wright’s views but, given Wright’s refusal to keep them quiet, he is now doing the politically necessary thing and distancing himself from the man and the remarks.
The real problem for Obama is that either way you look at it, it undermines the three pillars of Obama’ candidacy: (1) judgment to lead (as opposed to experience); (2) post-partisanship (his argument that he’s not just a politician); and (3) post-racial unity.
There are many types of judgment, and all of them matter when considering a candidate for president. Character judgment, the ability to size up a person, their intentions, their concerns and their world view, aides a president in negotiating with foreign leaders, selecting cabinet members and forecasting world events. Political judgment, the ability to choose a path that will be acceptable to a broad audience, is just as important domestically and when dealing with foreign populations (the hearts and minds argument).
- If you take the first view, that Obama didn’t know Reverend Wright’s true views, how could Obama know Wright for 20 years and not know his views? It is clear that Reverend Wright is not shy about his views and expresses them openly in front of a broad audience. Obama spent every Sunday with him for 20 years (except, coincidentally, those Sundays where Wright went off the rails). He was married by the man. Obama has called Wright his spiritual adviser. If Obama cannot discern the intentions and views of a man he has known closely for 20 years, how can we trust him to size up Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
- Secondly, and this speaks to both views, a little over a month ago, Obama chose to bring Reverend Wright closer, saying, “I can no more disown him than I can my own white grandmother.” Obviously, it is poor political judgment to bring someone so close, voluntarily calling them family, without ensuring that their penchant for controversial remarks are in the past.
- Separately, it shows poor character judgment that Obama trusted Wright to keep quiet. Mort Kondrake noted yesterday that it reminded him of how Jimmy Carter was shocked, shocked, that the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan. A telling analogy.
- Finally, if you take the view that Obama knew about Wright’s comments, it obviously shows poor judgment that Obama chose to attend Wright’s church for 20 years.
This is one of the more amusing tales Obama tells. “No more politics as usual” is fast becoming politics as usual.
- If you take the view that Obama knew of Wright’s views and is now distancing himself for political expediency, obviously this undercuts his “I am not a crook politician” argument.
- Separately, though, if you say he knew of Wright’s views, you have to decide whether Obama agrees with Wright or not. Either way this bodes ill for Obama’s post partisanship facade. If Obama agrees with Wright’s controversial views, then Obama is clearly lying now for the sake of his political aspirations. If, however, Obama does not agree (as he says he does not), then why did he go to that church? The most obvious reason is that he needed to for his political ambitions in Chicago. Either way, Obama has shown he is willing to compromise his beliefs for political expediency (in other words, he’s a politician).
- Finally, if you take the view that Obama did not know about Wright’s true views, in addition to the judgment issues noted above, you have to question the drastically different approaches Obama took, separated by only a month. In March, Obama made a long-winded speech about race, effectively excusing Wright’s sound bites and asking for the benefit of the doubt. Over the following weeks (as the thrill up Chris Matthews leg waned) Obama would slide down the slippery slope to later say he would have left the church had Wright not retired. Now, in April, he is offended and angry at Wright for essentially repeating what Obama told us Wright never said in the first place. In any case, Obama is doing what politicians do: when the high road doesn’t work, take the next available off ramp to the low road.
Post Racial Unity
Obama has claimed the mantle of post-racial unity. He has said he can lead us out of the era of racial animosity.
- Firstly, someone who attends the church of a man who claims the U.S. government is responsible for AIDS as an attempt at genocide is not going to lead us out of anything.
- Secondly, Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, making the reaction to Wright’s comments about race, was evidence that Obama doesn’t understand either culture. If Obama truly believes that all Blacks think “God Damn America” is an appropriate sermon, based on the overwhelming Black reaction to Wright, Obama doesn’t understand the broader Black community. (See also, the recent dust up when Obama called for restraint in New York City and was smacked around by another Reverend (Al Sharpton)). Separately, if Obama believes that his grandmother is a “typical white person”, he doesn’t understand “white culture” either.
- If Obama cannot stop a man he has know for 20 years from torpedoing Obama’s presidential campaign, how can he possible unite a country that, on one extreme, still believes that Al Gore won in 2000, and on the other extreme, still believes that Global Warming is a myth (I’m firmly in that camp)?