Nonetheless, last week, Barack Obama told America: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”
What is the plain meaning of that sentence? That the paranoid racist ravings of Jeremiah Wright are now part of the established cultural discourse in African American life and thus must command our respect? Let us take the senator at his word when he says he chanced not to be present on AIDS Conspiracy Sunday, or God Damn America Sunday, or US of KKKA Sunday, or the Post-9/11 America-Had-It-Coming Memorial Service. A conventional pol would have said he was shocked, shocked to discover Afrocentric black liberation theology going on at his church. But Obama did something far more audacious: Instead of distancing himself from his pastor, he attempted to close the gap between Wright and the rest of the country, arguing, in effect, that the guy is not just his crazy uncle but America’s, too.
To do this, Obama promoted a false equivalence. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother,” he continued. “A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street.” Well, according to the way he tells it in his book, it was one specific black man on her bus, and he wasn’t merely “passing by.”
When the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan dumped some of his closest Cabinet colleagues to extricate himself from a political crisis, the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe responded: “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his friends for his life.” In Philadelphia, Sen. Obama topped that: Greater love hath no man than to lay down his grandma for his life.
What is remarkable about this moment is that Obama’s speech rallied the Hollywood left to him while doing almost nothing to allay the new concerns of the middle while deepening the opposition of the right. As Politico’s VandeHei and Allen write, Obama’s almost certainly got the nomination in the bag, but the Wright controversy is not behind him, and it could explode at any moment. (Michael Barone provocatively asks whether Wright even wants Obama to win, and his new column asks whether the controversy has eroded Obama’s appeal to the millenials which has been so strong.) Twenty years of friendship with his pastor and mentor cannot be erased with a speech and a plea for understanding.
The Obamaphenom has been an extraordinary thing to watch gather strength and then sweep across the country. It is now changing in its core character, or revealing it. Like a hurricane over warm waters, the Obama candidacy is now feeding off of the long and usually bitter politics of race that have divided the country since its founding. Senator Obama may never have wanted his campaign to end up here, and it may have not been inevitable, but twenty years in the pews of a church perceived as radical by the vast majority of Americans not because of its theology but because of the political statements of its leadership has guaranteed the next eight months will be one long and often hot argument about race in America.
If the organizers of Recreate 68 get their way, it won’t be an argument that moves to agreement and closure, but one that explodes in protests and a rocked political establishment. Forty years later, we are back in a campaign centered on war and race, with one party led by its most established leader and the other deeply split. How deeply split. Here’s James Carville on Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Obama yesterday:
“An act of betrayal,” said James Carville, an adviser to the Clintons.
“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Carville said.
That’s harsh, comparing Richardson to the greatest betrayer of all time. (HT: Columnist to the World). But it is a sign of the way the Dems are going.
If Senator McCain selected a running mate early and set about the country with a team of advisors that will accompany him into the executive branch in some capacity, the contrast with the rapidly deteriorating Democratic front bench would be profound, just as this week’s trip to Iraq, Jordan and Israel showcased the chasm between McCain and Obama. Conventional wisdom says McCain waits as long as he can to name a running mate, but with a fund-raising gap that will only widen as the left gets more and more energized about having a nominee with a radical past and pastor, there’s an opportunity to cement the GOP support and claim the center right and energize fund-raising and organization in front of Team McCain.