Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Pastor that won't go away:
What's Wright got to do with understanding Obama

by Lee Smith

I am not sure why it seems surprising that Senator Barack Obama’s church has embraced Palestinian rejectionists. First the church newsletter reprinted an editorial by Hamas’s deputy political bureau chief, and then there was the “Open Letter to Oprah from Ali Baghdadi on her visit to Palestine,” where Baghdadi recommends the talk show hostess make a visit to the birthplace of Mary’s “beautiful Palestinian baby” (aka, Jesus), and describes an “ethnic bomb” Israel was developing in tandem with South Africa that would kill only “blacks and Arabs.”

The essential contours of the Islamist worldview are hardly alien to Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s flock. There’s the knee-jerk anti-Americanism (the Islamists’s “Death to America” and Reverend Wright’s “God Damn America”), and Wright’s use of the Arab world’s chestnut that America brought 9/11 on itself with its support of Israel. And the historical revisionism holding that the Jewish child of Jewish parents (and a Jewish God) is actually a “Palestinian” is consistent with the identity politics of Black Liberation theology.

But what’s really telling are the flights of paranoid fancy — like how Wright said that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, that Bush was going to plant WMD in Iraq just like the Los Angeles Police Department frames suspects, and, most notoriously, that the U.S. government created HIV to kill “colored people.” The idea that the Jews were working on an “ethnic bomb” partakes of a genre that combines historical fiction with sci-fi fantasy. “But Daddy,” an alert sixth-grade biology student might query her well-educated father, “my teacher says you can’t build a weapon that only targets one kind of person.” Never mind the science, honey, we’re here for the sermon.
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Reverend Wright’s sermons are signs of a bewitched mind, and Senator Obama’s apologia treated them as though they should initiate a discussion among the citizens of the nation that his deeply troubled preacher assailed. Senator Obama thinks that Wright’s ravings merit a national discussion on race, but there are other concerns that will not only take up much of the American president’s time, but will also constitute the issues that the executive branch actually has control over — like foreign policy. What sort of insight does the Wright affair give us into an Obama foreign policy?

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Instead of condemning violence, we need to contextualize murder and those who celebrate it, just like we have to understand Reverend Wright’s racist paranoia within the framework of “original sin.” By addressing the wrongs of history we can restore dignity and minimalize grievance.

“I don’t think anyone in the foreign policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does,” says Samantha Power, who is apparently still of the Obama campaign if no longer in it. And as Obama made clear in his Wright speech, no one running for president understands the depths of grievance like he does. An Obama presidency is not going to give us a national discussion on race, but a foreign policy that is a four-year-long international conference on grievance, for the world has many grievances with America.

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