Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama and Wright

A few days ago, I said that Barack Obama would have an obligation to speak out against his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, if he had heard him spread some of his wilder and totally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Yesterday, Wright restated some of these claims, including one that the United States government is responsible for spreading the AIDS virus.

This time, he spoke to a national audience.

Today, Senator Obama responded with a brief (7 minute) but very direct denunciation of these remarks.

I hesitate to wade into issues like this because I think that they distract from those that matter most (e.g. energy policy, health care, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc, etc).

However, if I can help squash these distractions even the tiniest bit, I will do so - and that will include any unwarranted attacks that may arise on John McCain's character as well.

If I thought Wright's remarks offered any insight at all into Obama's character or policy positions, I would let this go...or perhaps even pile on. But Obama's entire career - his professional decisions, his legislative initiatives, his writings, and his rhetoric - indicate the exact opposite.

It is perfectly respectable to disagree as vocally and publicly as possible with a politician's policy positions. But unwarranted attacks on a candidate's character - whether direct or through false levels of association with groups or other individuals - harm our democracy by dissuading our best people from serving.

We have to speak out against that when we see it.


Unknown said...

I'm an Obama supporter (though, admittedly, not as fervent a supporter as you, Jared, since I'm more of an Edwards supporter who just prefers Obama to Hillary), and I have to say that his association with Wright is kind of a turn-off. Whenever a prominent Republican demonstrates a close relationship to the likes of Pat Robertson, I shudder, and the Wright situation seems fairly analogous. To think that Obama has a close, personal, friendly relationship with Wright, who is clearly a tremendous tool and a lunatic, is not comforting. I couldn't be friends with someone who was such an overt bigot and ignoramus. Obama's loyalty to this man, however much he denounces the statements and distances himself from them, does, I confess, concern me.

Jared said...

It has certainly given me pause too - I don't mean to suggest that it hasn't.

I'll even go so far to say that I imagine that part of Obama's association with this specific church might be due to its prominence in the community where he launched his political career.

I will also say that does not excuse him sitting silently in the pews if he heard this stuff before - especially if his daughters were hearing it.

The bottom line for me though, is that I have no doubt that he does not share any of these views and for that reason, I do not think they should get the level of media attention they are receiving (not that I think you are disagreeing with this point).

Unknown said...

I'm confident that Obama doesn't share Wright's rather despicable and moronic opinions, but that is little consolation to me. The last two months can't be the first time that Obama has heard, or at least has heard about, unacceptably outrageous comments from Wright. I just don't believe that. He has to have known about this man before, and yet he continued not just to associate with him but to be his very close friend. Obama compared his loyalty to Wright to his loyalty to his grandmother. So what is the deal there? Is his relationship with Wright an enormous act of pandering to the black community by taking pains to show that he is "one of them"? What is the explanation?

Jared said...

I honestly don't know. You raise good and valid questions. I admit I haven't let myself dwell on the question because I suspect the real answer is probably a very unsatisfying one...

Obama is the first candidate that I have ever become emotionally attached to - despite my best efforts not to let it happen.

Yet I still feel objectively that he is not only the best choice, but potentially a great one. That being said, the man, like any other, has flaws and has made some very questionable mistakes. The questions you raise make that hard to deny.

It's good that this exchange is forcing me to be more objective about the whole situation. It hasn't altered my support or materially affected my enthusiasm for his candicacy, but it's reminded me how hard it is to be intellectually honest in political matters once you become invested in a person or position...and that's a very valuable thing to remember.