The Wright Stuff

It's nutty, offensive and paranoid stuff. And it is perfectly legitimate for reporters and voters to ask questions. It is not much nuttier than Falwell and Robertson, however. And I don't think it's racist to understand that the black church has a different cultural style in its preaching and activism style that helps add some dimension to Wright's record. If you read Obama's books and listen to him speak about his church, it's clear that he was not drawn by Wright's more inflammatory and offensive language. His engagement with the Church was an attempt to connect with the life and feelings of a black urban class he had never truly belonged to and whom he intended to represent. We can forget what an outsider Obama was when he first came to Chicago.

Nonetheless, Obama needs to be much more forceful and candid in explaining his relationship with Wright. I'm a little leery of getting in between a man and his minister - it's not unlike the lawyer-client relationship in some ways. And, goodness knows, I have had many a priest with whom I have disagreed or even found offensive. But like many people, I wouldn't sit through one of these sermons, let alone come back for more. And it would be helpful, to say the very least, if Obama told us more candidly why he did and does.

This, however, seems to me to be excessive:

Much as most of us would appreciate the symbolism of a black man ascending to the presidency, what we have in Barack Obama is a politician whose closeness to Mr. Wright underscores his radical record.

The media have largely ignored Mr. Obama's close association with Mr. Wright. This raises legitimate questions about Mr. Obama's fundamental beliefs about his country.

Everything we know about Obama's racial politics and rhetorical style - and we know a lot about both - reveals the enormous gulf between him and Wright. This notion that somehow Obama harbors some ambivalence about his own country is not borne out by any facts or any record. The total record of Obama shows a very shrewd but compassionate and engaged rejection of identity politics, not a celebration of its most paranoid and bigoted emanations.
More explanation of the relationship is important. But guilt by association - especially uttered in the dark, McCarthyite tones of this op-ed - says more about the paranoia of the writer than the patriotism of his subject.