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I guess I am late to the party. I didn't watch the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s National Press Club performance live Monday morning, as every other blogger seemed to do. Wright is not on the ticket of any major party, he is not Barack Obama, and I'm not going to be baited into making this campaign about Wright, or the boomer racial obsessions that so many want this vital election to be about.
But then I actually read what he said.
Obama needed not just to distance himself from Wright's
, as he did in his March 18 "A More Perfect Union" address in Philadelphia; Obama needed to disown
. And his news conference yesterday went much of the way toward that goal.
I knew Wright was an exhibitionist; many of his sermons at Trinity, read in their entirety, do fall within the tradition of prophetic teaching; I can forgive occasional outbursts from fiery preachers; he has done much good in his own neighborhood, and his interview Sunday with Bill Moyers struck me as defensible; parts of his address at the Press Club were completely uncontroversial and even contained some important truths.
But what he said Monday, the unrepentant manner in which he reiterated some of his most absurd and offensive views, makes any further defense of him impossible. This was a calculated, ugly, repulsive, vile display of arrogance, egotism and self-regard.
His claim that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks mean "America's chickens are coming home to roost"? Wright defended it: "Jesus said, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles."
His views on Farrakhan and Israel? "Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter . . . and Bishop Tutu are being vilified for. . . . [Farrakhan] is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that's what I think about him."
He praised the communist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua. He renewed his belief that the government created AIDS as a means of genocide against people of color. ("I believe our government is capable of doing anything.")
These are outright attacks on the stated beliefs and policies and values of Barack Obama in a secular setting.
I can well understand why Obama wouldn't disown the man who helped bring him to Christ. God knows I have had some spiritual mentors whose views I cannot accept in their entirety. I have been in a movement where many others - most others - hold views very alien to my own. Obama is a decent human being, and cutting off someone who has nurtured and sustained his faith and been a father figure to him is not in his character. If I believed for one second that Obama shared any of this bile I couldn't begin to support him. But Wright's cooptation of Obama for his own agenda - his assertion that Obama's distancing from him is insincere - required, in fact demanded, a response from Obama.
Wright himself, it seems to me, has become part of what Obama is fighting against: the boomer obsessions with red/blue, white/black, pro-/anti-Americanism. Those need not dominate this election, and Wright's racially divisive and, yes, bitter provocation requires a proportionate response.
This is no longer about cynics trying to associate one man's politics with another's. It is now about Wright attempting to associate himself and some of his noxious views with the likely Democratic nominee. He has given Obama no choice - but he
given him an opportunity. Yesterday, Obama went a long way toward seizing it. But making that repudiation stick will take more work.