The Wright Stuff

As far as I know, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright does not work for the Obama campaign.  Obama has, in fact, "rejected and repudiated" some of what the good reverend has to say.  But that has no bearing on those, like George Will, who insist somehow that Wright stands for Obama:

Because John McCain and other legislators worry that they are easily corrupted, there are legal limits to the monetary contributions that anyone can make to political candidates. There are, however, no limits to the rhetorical contributions that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright can make to McCain's campaign.

Because Wright is a gift determined to keep on giving, this question arises: Can persons opposed to Barack Obama's candidacy justly make use of Wright's invariably interesting interventions in the campaign? The answer is: Certainly, because Wright's paranoias tell us something — exactly what remains to be explored — about his 20-year parishioner.

Do they now.  What would they tell us about Obama?  Will of course follows this with selected and outrageous passages from recent (post-Obama disavowal–but that's really beside the point anyway) remarks by Reverend Wright.  One of these, by the way, is the wholly obvious suggestion that something about our foreign policy has made us the targets of terrorism.  I know it has always been 

The crux of the matter, of course, is whether (1) there is any reasonable connection between Obama's beliefs and Wright's, and (2) whether Wright's beliefs are that outrageous in the first place.  

Let's take two first.  Certainly some of Wright's beliefs hinge on the conspiratorial (in case you don't know what a conspiracy is, that's like saying "global warming is a hoax" or "tax cuts produce more revenue" or "Iraq had weapons of mass destruction" or "Iran is the new Hitler" or "the world was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago" and "there is a gay agenda"–you get the idea).  But we might remember that McCain has welcomed the support of a Pastor who advocates immanentizing the eschaton in the most literal of ways.  And no one thinks McCain must believe the same thing.  Many of Wright's statements–such as the one about terrorism–seem hardly outrageous.  But it's clear in any case that Will doesn't care to have a discussion with Wright.  

He's more interested in cultivating (1) Wright's connection with Obama.  Here it is: 

He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His speech yesterday demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be. 

Umberto Eco once observed, about computers, that MacIntosh is Catholic, while DOS is protestant.  With Catholicism, you're not really free to pick and choose (thus the criticism of John Kerry–why don't you agree with every last thing the Pope says?  Your disagreeing makes you dishonest!!!!); with protestantism, it's expected you pick and choose (of course John McCain doesn't have to agree with every last crazy belief of Hagee et alia–they're protestants!).  So why should this be any different for Obama?  

Besides, as far as I know, Wright's church does not have a doctrine of infallibility.  That would be crazy.


8 thoughts on “The Wright Stuff”

  1. “Yesterday, Wright also espoused the racialist doctrine that blacks have “different” learning styles from others’. This doctrine of racially different brains, or of an unalterably different black culture, is a doctrine today used to justify various soft bigotries of low expectations regarding blacks, and especially black children. It has a long pedigree as a rationalization for injustices. Slaveholders and, later, segregationists loved it.”

    Ahh, the infamous strawman appears yet again in this quote. Though I can’t necessarily comment on Wright’s views regarding natural versus socially constructed cultural differences, reading Wright’s comment here charitably would lead me to conclude that he is not in fact advocating that races have different brains. Rather, it seems he is making a cultural point about the manner in which education differs between “black culture” and the dominant paradigm. This argument may in fact be contentious, but not because it necessarily leads to “soft bigotry” or lower expectations. The legitimacy of the expectations is precisely what is called in to question by this view of cultural educational difference.

    There are many other arguments that Wright makes, as jcasey points out, that are definitely contentious in certain respects, but they are far from absurd, or at least no less absurd than remarks made by Hagee. I’m not sure if this has been brought up before on this site, but I’d like to offer a brief description of Wright’s background that will perhaps lend some of his words marginal credibility:

    “From 1959 to 1961, Wright attended Virginia Union University,[1] in Richmond. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Wright gave up his student deferment, left college and joined the United States Marine Corps and became part of the 2nd Marine Division with the rank of private first class. In 1963, after two years of service, Wright then transferred to the United States Navy and entered the Corpsman School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where he graduated as valedictorian.[10][6] Having excelled in corpsman school, Wright was then trained as a cardiopulmonary technician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where he graduated as salutatorian.[6] Wright was assigned as part of the medical team charged with care of President Lyndon B. Johnson (see photo of Wright caring for Johnson after his 1966 surgery). Before leaving the position in 1967, the White House awarded Wright three letters of commendation.[11][12][13]

    In 1967 Wright enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 and a master’s degree in English in 1969. He also earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School.[6] Wright holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (1990) from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he studied under Samuel DeWitt Proctor, a mentor to Martin Luther King[14] (Wikipedia entry).

    Let’s see what Hagee’s beliefs look like:

    “Hagee has also said that Iran will never respond favorably to diplomacy and is a threat to Western civilization.[citation needed]. To eliminate Iran’s alleged nuclear programme, he supports an American-Israeli pre-emptive military strike. [12][13] Hagee also supports the Conservative movement in the United States.

    In his book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee interprets the Bible to predict that Russia and the Islamic states will invade Israel and will be destroyed by God. This will cause the anti-Christ, the head of the European Union, to create a confrontation over Israel between China and the West. A final battle between East and West at Armageddon will then precipitate the Second Coming of Christ.[15] In a discussion concerning Muhammad, Hagee asserts that Muhammad was a man of war and this is the cause of trouble over Jerusalem.”[citation needed](Wikipedia entry).

    Wright thinks HIV is a government conspiracy perpetrated against poor blacks. Hagee argues that the end of the world, Armageddon, is indisputably approaching. Which belief is wackier? At least we know that our government has engaged in nefarious conspiracies in the past, and that governments have used biological warfare on their own people before, making the HIV conspiracy theory, though improbable, not inconceivable. Armageddon, on the other hand…

  2. This Will piece will be even more interesting when we find out how he responds to today’s events. From the passage you quoted, I’d be willing to bet that Will is going to say that it’s too late to throw this guy under the bus, and that the issue is Obama’s “voluntary 20-year relationship” with Wright that shows that Obama must have either secret extremist Wright-esque views or terrible judgment.

    Anyone else want to call it? What’s Will’s reaction?

  3. “voluntary 20-year relationship” seems kind of vague. I’ve had such relationships with people few of whose views I share. Does that make me responsible for them? Must we separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree?

  4. The question is, to what extent should we scrutinize relationships by association in our politics. Some associations seem reasonable to question (ties to lobbyists for instance). Others are irrelevant.

    The emphasis in recent years on the necessity of repudiating ideological views one may be dubiously connected to is a thinly veiled character assassination tactic somehow manufactured into a legitimate moral duty to demonstrate one’s integrity. It seems to be a form of loaded question, namely “have you stopped hating America, Mr. Obama?”

    A similar, though more general, issue has been fashionable in recent years regarding the need for Islamic Americans to repudiate the views of radical elements in Middle-Eastern politics. The pressure seems to be on Islamic Americans to somehow prove their loyalty to America by leading vociferous attacks against the enemies of state, beyond what we should require of any citizen in this country. While a non-Islamic critic of U.S. foreign policy might be simply branded a hopeless, unpatriotic liberal, an Islamic critic will be accused of being a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer: “Have you stopped hating America, Arab?”

  5. jcasey, you need a guilt by association category under red herring.

    Will is a douchebag.

  6. Dagon, I think Will might dust off that wonderful phrase “flip-flopper” or “flip-flop” or some other such thing. It worked against Kerry and may work against Obama.

  7. I can see that, jnovy: “He was for his crazy black pastor before he was against him” or something…

  8. Yup. Or… some genius of a pundit might jump on him for not sticking by his spiritual mentor. Either way Obama is open to attack.

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