16 March 2008

16 March 2008 - Obama's denunciation doesn't cut it

On Friday, Senator Barack Obama denounced his minister’s offensive, anti-American statements. Obama claimed that the things Jeremiah Wright said “were not statements [he] personally heard him preach,” but that he knew about some of them when his campaign started. Obama nevertheless decided not to leave Trinity United Church of Christ because Wright was on the verge of retirement anyway.

This doesn’t fly with me, because I have personally left synagogues when I have found sermons to be unpalatable. For example, I once attended a synagogue where the rabbi was pro-peace until Ariel Sharon was elected in 2001. Then the rabbi started attacking Arabs, Muslims, Christians, you name it. He even used his pulpit to denounce another rabbi who had met with critics of Israel—to debate them!

When I confronted my rabbi about his statements, I told him that I no longer felt comfortable bringing my curious Muslim and Christian friends to the service. He said something like: “I wouldn’t bring those people here. The fate of the Jewish people is at stake.” When I asked him whether his statements about the other rabbi were not lashon hara (the evil tongue), a grave sin, he told me he didn’t care.

So I left. It wasn’t hard to do. There were lots of synagogues in town, just like there are lots of great churches in Chicago. If Obama wanted a “progressive” African-American congregation with a commitment to family values and social causes on the South Side, he needn’t have gone far. There were many other choices. And people of conscience make those choices all the time (as this pastor points out).

I agree that Obama could not dump Wright during, or on the eve of, his campaign. It would look purely expedient, and would open him to charges of “selling out” from the sizeable number of voters who expect their candidate to embody some kind of authenticity. The problem is that Obama did not leave Trinity years ago. That says something about his values—something voters will surely take into account.


At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your post, certainly the sentiment of it. I was wondering though in this context what you think of McCain's embrace of Hagee? Or his backing up from his comments about agents of intolerance?

In order to be elected, how much does a candidate (especially on the right) have to pander to religious bigots?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Let's examine this briefly. Obama spends 20 years in Wright's church, et cetera. McCain gets Hagee's endorsement. No comparison.

As to your second question, which seems rhetorical (but never mind), who are you calling religious bigots? Anyway, the answer is: not at all. McCain's always been pro-life and anti-tax, so no pandering necessary.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not the endorsement that is disturbing it is the embrace of that endorsement. I am calling the Hagee, Robinson and the Farwell types bigots. McCain described them as "agents of intolerance" in 2000 and I completely agree. He no longer does.

It wasn't a rhetorical question, McCain has changed his strategy from that campaign to this one, he clearly thinks he needs to pander to the religious right. Pro-life/anti-abortion is only the tip of the iceberg, what about homosexual rights and church state separation?

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Joel said...

I understand what you're saying. But McCain did distance himself from Hagee's comments. As for the other folks, McCain made his peace with them a few years ago. In 2000, he was running against the conservative wing of his party. A few years later--long before this election started--he patched up his differences. That's politics.

I think that now that the Republican primaries are over, you'll see McCain tack back towards the center. This is basically how it's supposed to happen. Unfortunately for Clinton and Obama, their contest has gone on, forcing them to compete for the attention of the Democratic base and pushing them further left over time. McCain is reaping the benefits of poor Democratic planning and a party ideology that has been emptied of all content or relevance. It's no accident the Democrat-controlled Congress gets even lower approval ratings than lame-duck Republican George W. Bush.

At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama's problems with Wright are not going away but nor are the religious right and I don't think McCain can simply play the centre. Hucabees popularity was partly because the religious right are growing disillusioned by Republicans who use them to get out the vote. I hope you are right and I am wrong. McCain is certainly a much more moderate candidate.

The Democratic congress deserve their low approval rating, they are spineless. If they wanted to end the Iraq war they could have done it. If the Republicans do lose I think it will be a protest vote.


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