As the old saw goes, “When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” It is equally true that “When they say it’s not about race, it’s about race.” And so it went with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright as the Clintons plowed that furrow, and so will it go again with him if the Republicans are able to bring him front and center in the Fall. We all know that they will try their damnedest to make the election over Rev. Wright and what he supposedly stands for, not about George Bush and John McCain and Barack Obama and what they really stand for. (Of course in the case of BushMcCain they will also try to run on what they say they stand for, which has little to do with what they really stand for, but that one is for another day.) And so, it will come down once again, first and foremost as I said in my TPJ column 189, “A Game Plan for Obama,” control of the agenda. One very important way for Obama to get control of the Rev. Wright agenda item is to make it very clear what it really is about: race and racism.
It was after I wrote my column TPJ No. 190 “Is the Rev. Wright Wrong?” that Rev. Wright made his now-famous appearances on Bill Moyers’ show, and before the NAACP (April 27, 2008) and the National Press Club (at which, known to few, the audience other than journalists was made up of African-American church officials [April 28, 2008]). The chorus of condemnation from the Mainstream Media, even among well-known middle-of-the-road African-American journalists like Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Bob Herbert of The New York Times, grew louder and louder. Wright, explaining his positions at length, with the style and vernacular of a flamboyant churchman of any ethnicity, was condemned as an ego-maniac, as a traitor to the U.S., as absolutely not in the tradition of oh-so-conveniently dead Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who happened to have said many similar things, perhaps in not quite as colorful language, but anyway he is conveniently dead). How dare he?
You can read a transcript of the supposedly scandalous remarks, especially at question time, from the famous National Press Club news conference here. I did happen to hear live a number of the answers to questions that so many pundits and Sen. Obama himself took such offense at. I didn’t think that there was anything out of the ordinary, and nothing like the “damn-the-Constitution” and “all liberals are traitors” (treason being an offense that carries the death penalty) that we hear from the Right-Wing Republican Radio Screamers all day every day. And boy, does this man know his Old Testament and how to use it. In sum, I didn’t find his comments particularly scandalous.
He talked about how Black Liberation Theology, which grew out of Latin American Catholic Liberation Theology, has a lot to say about the problems of oppressed peoples everywhere; about the good works that his congregation has done in their community over many years; about how the progressive evangelist Jim Wallis (white) has called for a national apology for slavery; about how Christianity, his faith, has been used as a cover for evil as well, like the Klan; about finding a fair settlement to the Palestine/Israel problem; about how whites fueled the Underground Railway; about how he rationalized his statements about “damning America;” and about how he separated himself from Sen. Obama. He also had the temerity to point out that large numbers of African-American listen to the words of Minister Farrakhan, “whether they agree with him or not.”
Apparently words like the ones the Rev. uttered are said on Sundays in black churches all over the country. I’ve never been to a black church on Sunday (to a white one either) so I wouldn’t know for sure. But I thought it fascinating that the black ministers in his national press club audience when asked, thought that what he said was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact they were delighted that for once sentiments expressed by many of them on a regular basis before their own congregations were getting national exposure. Unfortunately for them, the nation was not treated to any dis-passionate representation of what he said but rather to a knee-jerk establishment reaction to it, even from African-American “good liberals” like the aforementioned Bob Herbert and Eugene Robinson. And for better or worse, that’s what Sen. Obama had to go with. Standing in his place I would have gone with them too. It is a losing battle in our country for an African-American running for President to attempt to rationally explain what someone like Rev. Wright (who has more military service than the leaders of the current Regime have combined) means when he says what he says, and that he says it because he wants his country to become a better place for everyone, not just him and his people.
And so, how dare Sen. Obama not completely disassociate himself from the Rev. Wright? Peggy Noonan, the well-known Reagan hagiographer, told us, on the morning of April 29, 2008, towards the end of “Morning Joe’s” romp of the day through the orchards of Wright and Obama, that the Senator should offer a series (not just one mind you) of speeches, distancing himself from the Rev. Wright and explaining in detail a) just how and what he would be distancing himself on and b) why-oh-why did he not do it much sooner. (It should be noted that Noonan is adopting some strangely liberal positions on certain matters, such as George Bush, but it remains to be seen if she develops any kind of consistent change in ideology.)
The more I listen to this stuff, the more I am reminded of oratory that I heard much too much of when I was child in the 40s, 50s and 60s, before the (partial) triumph of the civil rights movement. You know, how certain “coloreds” are just “uppity.” They talk too much and they say things that are just wrong, dontchaknow, they just offend our American way of life. And when “coloreds” (and you know the other words applied) become “uppity,” why they have to be put in their places.
And so, Wright is “uppity” because, for example, he dares to speak the truth about the United States having blood on its hands around the world, starting with the institution of slavery that was recognized in our Constitution, originally, with African-Americans counting as three-fifths of a person (and Native Americans, slaughtered by the many tens of thousands in the 19th century, not counting at all). Think further, the Philippines, 1902, Iran, 1953, Guatemala, 1954, Vietnam, 1956, Brazil, 1964, Chile, 1973, Afghanistan 1979, Nicaragua, 1984, Iraq, 2003, for openers.
And Sen. Obama, why he is “uppity” for daring to become a serious candidate for President. By golly, the Rev. Huckabee and his friends at the virtually all-white, virtually all-male NRA know just how to put such “uppity coloreds” in their places, now don’t they. And he is “uppity” for, if he actually got into the Oval Office and lived to tell the tale, he would try at least to make major changes in both foreign and domestic policy and the way political business is done in this country. How uppity can you get? And so, Wright needs to be “put in his place,” and Obama needs to explain, at great length mind you, just why and how he should not be ultimately caricatured and classified as just another uppity “colored” and put in his place, too.
Let’s just hope that both Wright and Obama will have none of this. Right now Wright is doing Obama’s political work for him by gradually distancing himself from the Senator. Obama, even if he were so inclined to do any more of that scut work than he has already done, doesn’t need to bother. As for Obama, the last thing he needs to do is to fall into the Noonan Trap and “explain himself” endlessly, all the while being drawn further down into the quicksand of “oh Senator Obama, you didn’t do it right. Could please explain some more?” To change both policy and politics, the Senator just has to keep on doin’ what he has been doin’: talking about how is going to change both and doing the one of the two that he can do right now, before the elections: doing politics in an entirely new way.
In his introduction to my previous column on the Rev. Wright controversy, our Editor/Publisher Judge Stephen Gheen, said: “Dr. Steven Jonas, TPJ’s Contributing Author, wades into a subject that some believe is the ‘third rail’ of the Obama campaign – Reverend Wright. Dr. Jonas offers a thoughtful defense of Rev. Wright; one that every Democrat should read.” I don’t regard what I had to say as a “defense of Rev. Wright,” but rather as an explanation and for some of them justification of several of the various historical and policy positions that he has taken.
I have a suspicion that the Rev. knew exactly what he was doing, however, by seeming to sound “off-the-wall” to those (most listeners) totally unfamiliar with the language of BLT: giving Sen. Obama some “stuff” with which he could justifiably distance himself for the benefit of the MSM and some “centrist” Democrats who otherwise like him and his ideas, and know that he’s got a much better shot at McCain than does Hillary “Bill/Monica/Foster/Whitewater/Pardons/Cattle-deal/failed-health-plan/and-what-have-you” Clinton. That the good Rev. did, and we have heard nothing from him since. I must say, however, that I hope he stays quiet. For if he doesn’t, the media noise will once again drown out all of the good process and substantive policy positions that Obama stands for.
As for Clinton, how much better she would have been served had she, when the Rev. Wright thing broke, said words to the effect of: “This issue has no place in the campaign. One’s religion and religious views, and the views of one’s pastor for which one is hardly responsible, have no place in the campaign, as long as one is not trying to impose them on others, as the Republican Party tries to do regularly on such issues as abortion and homosexual rights. The Rev. Wright has not endorsed Sen. Obama. These attacks are out-of-bounds, and some would consider racist in nature. Now, when it comes to ministers who step into the political arena, like Sen. McCain’s Rev. Hagee, and whop want to pass a whole series of laws that would impose their particular religious views on moral questions like when life begins on the rest of us, that’s another story.” When the obits and then the history of her failed campaign for the Presidency are written this monstrous mistake (in several senses) will be featured, I’m sure.
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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a TPJ contributing author. He is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author of over twenty-five books. Dr. Jonas is one of America’s most perceptive Democratic political analysts.
Dr. Jonas is a Contributing Author for the webmagazine The Political Junkies.net (www.thepoliticaljunkies.net); a Columnist for the webmagazine BuzzFlash (http://www.buzzflash.com; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online (http://www.bestcyrano.org/; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC (http://www.oldamericancentury.org/; an invited contributor to the weblog The Daily Scare (http://www.dailyscare.com/; and Contributing Editor for the weblog (http://www.planetarymovement.org/, currently inactive). He also has his own weblog, “Dr. J.’s Short Shots, II” (http://drjsshortshots.wordpress.com/).
In his book The New Americanism, Dr. Jonas presents his proposal for that “new vision and mission” for the Democratic Party that so many, for so many years, have been urging it to find. A new vision and mission are obviously needed with increasing urgency as with increasing speed and determination the Georgites drive our nation towards frank theocratic fascism, and the Democratic Party flounders around in trying, and so far failing, to find an effective voice for the 2008 election. Dr. Jonas finds the needed vision and mission in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. “The New Americanism: How the Democratic Party Can Win the Presidency is available from Amazon.com (go to “Books;” enter the full title) and BarnesandNoble.com (same).
He is also the author of The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Under the pseudonym “Jonathan Westminster” this book was originally published in 1996. It was republished with a New Introduction in 2004. Under Georgite rule, the “fictional non-fiction” scenario of this work of “future history” is, most unfortunately, becoming all too real. Now almost day-by-day too many of Dr. Jonas’ predictions are coming true. Both versions are available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com (go to “Books;” enter the title). The 2004 edition is also available at www.xlibris.com (click on “Bookstore,” then “Search” with the title).
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