The Politician and the Preacher

You can find my take on the Jeremiah Wright contretemps over at the Current. I had been skeptical about the notion that Wright's racialist theology would turn out to be Obama's Achilles heel, as Rod Dreher among others has suggested it might be, in part because I have the sense that most Americans view the mild Afrocentrism that many black churches dabble in with a mix of (appropriate) tolerance and (inappropriate) condescension, rather than with fear or distaste. But after watching these videos, I'm inclined to think that Wright's Chomskyite politics - and particularly the Ward Churchill-style, "chickens coming home to roost" take on 9/11 - represent a real hazard for the Obama camp, and one that the candidate needs to find a way to address directly, rather than just waving it away. Like Daniel Larison, I think there's something to be said for politicians refusing to bow to media pressure to disavow their friends, even when those friends happen to be kooks. But Wright is a mentor, rather than just a chum, which makes his kookery more relevant - and if he's really Obama's friend he'll understand that a man hoping to President needs to be "forceful and candid," as Andrew puts it, about their relationship, and more explicit than Obama's been so far about repudiating Wright's politics.

One other point about the Reverend: He seems like a truly remarkable showman in the pulpit, whatever you think of the opinions he's expressing. And given the amount of attention lavished on Obama's preacherly cadences, it's interesting to contrast the restraint of Obama's style of sermonizing with his pastor's vastly more flamboyant approach: