Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Throws Pastor Under Bus; Reaffirms Faith

by Ken Houghton

UPDATE II: This post is superseded, to a large extent, by this one.

UPDATE: d at LG&M notes that it has begun.

After twenty years of attendance:
For nearly a week, Mr. Obama has struggled to distance himself from a series of controversial statements by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who characterized the United States as fundamentally racist and the government as corrupt and murderous. Mr. Obama concluded over the weekend that he had failed to resolve the questions, aides said, and told advisers he wanted to address the firestorm in a speech.

In his address here, delivered in an auditorium to an audience of about 200 elected officials and members of the clergy, Mr. Obama disavowed the remarks by Mr. Wright as “not only wrong, but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity.” But he did not wholly distance himself from his pastor or the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, on Chicago’s South Side.

Credit where due, he spreads the blame around:
“For some, nagging questions remain,” Mr. Obama said. “Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely — just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.” [emphasis mine]

Up until now, the case could be reasonably made—and it has been—that Obama was being singled-out. That no one knows or cares who Hillary's or John McCain's pastor is, and that this was either equivalent to a witch hunt or trivial at best.

And the case was correct, not matter how much Bill Kristol and/or Newsmax wanted it not to be.

And how the original response was enough. (Also correct.)

Now, Obama has declared that he spent twenty years going to a church and a pastor when he "strongly disagree[d] with with many of his political views."

I suspect what comes next will be ugly; uglier than it would have been, even, if Obama had stood up and supported his friend of twenty years instead of declaring him "not only wrong, but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity."

Obama still has his faith:
“It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years,” Mr. Obama said. “Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.”

but he just cast its rock adrift. And, unlike Samantha Power (with due respects, such as they are, to Brad De Long and Mark Lynch), Wright is not likely to be able to return after the general election.

And we have gone from being able to say that Obama was being singled out to making it legitimate to ask, "Why didn't you find another church, one more in keeping with what you say your beliefs are?"

It's a question that should never have been fair game, but Obama himself has made it so.

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As I said earlier, obviously the other problems of the world have been solved. About the best thing I can say about the whole thing, including this post, is that it's happened far enough away from any actual voting that nobody will remember it by then.

Anyway, I was quite accustomed in my church-going years to disagreeing with Catholic priests on political and doctrinal matters. In fact, the latest dispatch from our notional parish -- suggesting that a correct moral analysis would lead me to the conclusion that voting pro-life was more important than voting pro-economic justice and/or anti-war, is probably the straw that will get us finally to send the money that we still give to them to a secular charity.

And the role of the pastor in whatever faith anyone (else) might have is a matter where you couldn't possibly have any insight.
The man who said "When democrats abandon the field of religious discourse...others will fill the vacuum" should not have been unprepared for this.

And he didn't seem to be on March 14th (link to Hilzoy's post above):

"As I have written about in my books, I first joined Trinity United Church of Christ nearly twenty years ago. I knew Rev. Wright as someone who served this nation with honor as a United States Marine, as a respected biblical scholar, and as someone who taught or lectured at seminaries across the country, from Union Theological Seminary to the University of Chicago. He also led a diverse congregation that was and still is a pillar of the South Side and the entire city of Chicago. It's a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS.

Most importantly, Rev. Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor. And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn."

Today's speech was just feeding the hungry wolves who are never going to be satiated anyway. And the big difference is from that last 'graf above and "Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely."

I don't know that what Obama's books say about his life is true, but the presumption that he is telling the truth as he sees it in them seems a fair one. And what is presented is that his faith is central to his political views.

His March 14th statement made it clear why he didn't "vote with his feet." Today's statement muddied the issue considerably, d's hyperbole notwithstanding.
Americans have always muddled faith and politics, you can wish it were otherwise, but it'll be in vain. This was a great and heartfelt speech, all you need to do is put it up against Romney's effort on "Faith" to see just how amazing a politician Obama really is. If this speech ends up hurting him, there's no justice in this world.
Well-put, Felix.
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