I guess I am late to the party, am I not? I didn't watch Jeremiah Wright's National Press Club performance live this morning, as every other blogger seemed to. Wright is not on the ticket of any major party, he is not Barack Obama, and I'm not going to be baited into making this campaign about him, or the boomer cultural racial obsessions that so many want this vital election to be about.
But then I actually read what he said.
I knew he was an exhibitionist; many of his sermons at Trinity, read in their entirety, do fall within the tradition of some prophetic teaching; I can forgive occasional outbursts from fiery preachers; he has done much good in his own neighborhood and his interview with Bill Moyers struck me as defensible; parts of his address at the Press Club were completely uncontroversial and even contained some important truths.
But what he said today extemporaneously, the way in which he said it, the unrepentant manner in which he reiterated some of his most absurd and offensive views, his attempt to equate everything he believes with the black church as a whole, and his open public embrace of Farrakhan and hostility to
the existence of Israel Zionism, make any further defense of him impossible. This was a calculated, ugly, repulsive, vile display of arrogance, egotism, and self-regard:
His claim that the September 11 attacks mean "America's chickens are coming home to roost"?
Wright defended it: "Jesus said, '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 on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles."
His views on Farrakhan and Israel? "Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter's being vilified for and Bishop Tutu's being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that's what I think about him. . . . Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color."
He denounced those who "can worship God on Sunday morning, wearing a black clergy robe, and kill others on Sunday evening, wearing a white Klan robe." He praised the communist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua. He renewed his belief that the government created AIDS as a means of genocide against people of color ("I believe our government is capable of doing anything").
This is an outright attack on the stated beliefs and policies and values of Barack Obama in a secular setting.
I can well understand why Obama has not disowned the man who helped bring him to Christ. God knows I have had some spiritual mentors whose views I cannot accept in their entirety or some allies in the struggle for gay equality who are not my ideological confreres in many other ways. I have been in a movement where many others - most others - hold views very alien to my own. Obama is a decent human being, and cutting off someone who has nurtured and sustained his faith and been a father figure to him is not in his character. If I believed for one second that Obama shared any of this bile, I couldn't begin to support him. But Wright's cooptation of Obama for his own agenda - his assertion that Obama's distancing from him is insincere - requires, in fact demands a response from Obama.
Obama needs not just to distance himself from Wright's views; he needs to disown him at this point. Wright himself, it seems to me, has become part of what Obama is fighting against: the boomer, Vietnam era's obsession with its red-blue, white-black, pro and anti-America fixations. That is not what this election needs to be about; and Wright's massive, racially divisive and, yes, bitter provocation requires a proportionate response.
We need a speech or statement from Obama in which he utterly repudiates this poison, however personally difficult that may be, however damaging the impact will be. The statement today will not do it. This is no longer about cynics trying to associate one man's politics with another. It is now about Wright attempting to associate himself and some of his noxious, stupid, rancid views with the likely Democratic nominee. Wright has given Obama no choice - and he has also given him another opportunity. He needs to seize it.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty.)