I did not hear Barack Obama’s great speech on race when he gave it live, so I read the text as I listened to it on You Tube. The hype surrounding it seemed over the top, reminiscent in fact of the highly praised (at the time) speech given by Colin Powell at the UN, making the case for the war On Iraq. The following passage in the Obama speech struck me:
“I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. 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? (At first Obama had denied being there when Wright made some of his “controversial” comments. But Obama lies often. J.W.) 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.)
“Pastors, priests or rabbis,” but one religion was missing. There was no mention of imams. You may say that there are not enough muslims in the United States to merit mention. But there are more muslims than Jews, and many of them are black. This was not an oversight in the spoken text; this was part of the written text. Nor could this be put down to the idea that Obama had labored alone through the night to work on the speech after he put his daughters to bed–a claim reminiscent of Bob Newhart’s instruction to Abe Lincoln to copy the Gettysburg address, written for him by his PR people, onto the back of an envelope to make it authentic. Such speeches as this one from campaigns with hundreds of millions in resources do not include passages not run through focus groups or passages bearing late night gaffes.
When one reads the next paragraph in Obama’s speech, it is easy to see what he is getting at:
“But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived (sic) injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country–a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.” (Emphasis mine)
“Perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.” Are those words of reconciliation? Are there not perverse and hateful ideologies in Christianity and Judaism also? Why does Islam get such unfavorable mention? And in the same breath, Obama mentions “stalwart allies like Israel.” Is it OK to be bigoted for the sake of a stalwart ally? In this passage not only does Obama throw “family” in the person of Wright under the bus, but he also seems to have forgotten his earlier alleged sympathy with Palestinians. It is very clear that he wants to dissociate himself from any empathy Reverend Wright may have had for oppression of Palestinians. And how careful Obama is to say “perceived injustice.” You see Wright, many of whose sermons sound damned good to me (with the exception of the AIDS conspiracy), was only speaking about “perceived” injustices, according to BO. We are only one step here from a Sistah Soljah moment of “imagined” injustices.
Now perhaps you may say that I am being overly harsh, that is only a “touch” of bigotry. But it is of a piece with Obama’s expressed sympathy with the Israeli actions in Gaza, with his hawkish stand on Iran, his desire to ratchet up the war in Afghanistan, his love for Samantha Power’s “humanitarian’ imperialism and hid consistent votes for hundreds of billions in Iraqi war funding to slay hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Clearly one of the aims of Obama was to show the Isreal Lobby–once more – that he is on its side. There has been concern in certain corners of the Lobby about Obama although in others he is welcomed with open arms. Here Obama shows he can denounce the “perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam” with the best of them. So how did it work? Not too well, it seems. A week later, Bill Kristol, a reliable voice for the Neocon men and the Lobby, was having none of it, writing in the NYT that “The real question, of course, is not why Obama joined Trinity, but why he stayed there for two decades” So Obama has rendered up his first ounces of flesh to the Lobby, but he has farther, much farther, to go before it will be enough. From his performance so far, it is quite clear that the ambitious Obama will get there eventually–no matter how much blood will have to flow, albeit from others, as the full pound is extracted.
JOHN V. WALSH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org