Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech last week has sparked more questions than answers, and leaves open the matter of whether it adequately explained the Illinois senator’s 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, considering Wright’s many biased, inflammatory and prejudicial statements.
Obama: “I can no more disown him (Wright) than I can disown the black community.”
Does disowning the “black community” mean Obama must always accept any and all blacks, no matter what they may say or do? I can think of many people for whom I have no respect because of their values, beliefs or conduct, and I would not hesitate to distance myself from them with nary a thought that I might “disown” my own “community” in doing so.
Obama: “Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place …?”
Good question. Obama explains it this way: “And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and YouTube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentator, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.”
However, that doesn’t adequately explain, at least to me, why Obama would willingly listen to the prejudiced rants of a pastor for 20 years, even if he has been “like family.”
Obama: “I can no more disown (Wright) than I can my white grandmother.”
Does this imply there are no conditions under which any of us should “disown” a close relative — brother, sister, cousin, even a parent or grandparent? What if they abused you? What if they were just plain worthless? Must we always accept our relatives regardless of what they might have done to us or to others? I can think of plenty of reasons for disowning someone, and near the top of my list is that they are prejudiced to the point of being offensive.
Obama also described “Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments …”
All true. But, this is also true of many other minority groups at various times in our history, including the present: The Poles (“Pollocks”), the Irish, Czechs, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Mexicans, Filipinos, American Indians, women and others. They have all experienced and many continue to experience prejudice. We can argue about the degree to which each group has been discriminated against, but they have all had to endure their share.
Obama’s speech contained appeals to the poor and underprivileged with such statements as, “But it also means binding our particular grievances — for better health care, and better schools and better jobs — to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who has been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family … We want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Native American children … We want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington … We want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life … It’s that the corporation you work for will ship it (your job) overseas for nothing more than a profit.”
This is nothing more than the standard liberal appeal to minority and underprivileged voters. Obama’s litany included just about every conceivable populist grievance against business and government and foretold budget-busting government programs as the remedy.
In the final analysis, Obama’s speech did not adequately explain why he sat in a congregation for 20 years listening to the repeated prejudiced, anti-American diatribes of a “friend and mentor” who was also his pastor. Nor has he disassociated himself from this pastor, excusing it on the grounds that to do so would also mean he would be disassociating himself from the black community.
Barack Obama is a gifted speaker, with a talent for weaving words together that inspire hope and confidence. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, they don’t really seem to say very much at all, except perhaps that he is just another politician trolling for votes.
Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.