I just watched Jeremiah Wright’s appearence carefully on C-SPAN‘s website, and I don’t think the context improves much of anything. Wright is not only filled with hatred for the U.S. government (if not its people), but he could barely contain his contempt for the woman who was charged with reading questions from the audience, mocking her, taunting her, calling her ignorant. And for all of his talk about how nobody who is criticizing him understands the black church, it’s pretty clear that he has no understanding of why people are criticizing him.
For instance, when asked to explain his comments after 9/11 that the chickens are coming home to roost, he said it was the same thing as saying you reap what you sow, or that you should 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 to you,” Wright said. “Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive, principles.” Of course those who were offended by the comments aren’t offended by the general concept that commiting acts of terrorism triggers a response, people were offended by the suggestion that America was “doing terrorism” in the first place. The fact that Wright sees the controversial part of his statement as the origin of the “golden rule” rather than his characterization of American actions, says all you need to know about Wright.
His defense of his “God Damn America” statement was similar– he just drew a distinction, saying God was damning the policies of the American government, not the American people.
Wright stood by Louis Farrakhan, saying he was “one of the most important voices of the 20th or 21st century.” He also suggested Farrakhan was taken out of context when he reportedly said Judaism was a “gutter religion”– said he meant zionism, and said that Farrakhan’s views were the same as the UN and Jimmy Carter. (That latter part is perhaps about the only thing Wright and I may agree on).
Wright also refused to back off from his statement that the U.S. created AIDS, suggesting the questioner read Leonard Horowitz’s book on the subject. “I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” Wright said. Talk about cynical.
Also quite telling, was Wright’s repeated assertion that, “We both know that if Sen. Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected. Politicians say what they say based on electability, based on soundbites, based on polls.”
I’ve always felt that Wright would not be a make or break issue for Obama, but it will be part of a growing narrative about Obama that will continue to harm his image as a transformational leader and haunt his candidacy. Obama’s defenders will continue to say it doesn’t matter what Wright said, Obama doesn’t agree with his comments. But the problem is that since Obama has such a thin public record, since there are few tangible accomplishments his campaign can point to as evidence of his ability to make positive changes by bringing people together through shared hope, all the American people have to go on are his speeches. But it’s hard to take a leap of faith with somebody who you don’t know very well. Therefore, when trying to determine who Obama is, this guy who within five years has risen from the obscurity of the state senate to within arm’s reach of the most powerful job in the world, his close relationships take on an added importance.