Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright is Wrong

Like drivers who have to slow down to see a wreck that has nothing to do with them, I have spent too much time watching and reading about Reverend Wright's rants and Barack Obama's "throwing him under the bus" (what a metaphor for scapegoating or sacrificing!) This has nothing to do with me, for one thing. I don't support Obama in the first place, I'm not African American, I don't go to the Reverend Wright's church (and in this context, when I call it his church I mean his church because God doesn't seem to be part of the equation), and I can't even say I have a scholarly interest in the kind of "rhetoric" he's using. Yet I keep watching these conservative pundits and rabble-rousers try to make this the only issue in a campaign. I keep reading about Obama's justification for distancing himself from his pastor. I keep getting involved where I don't ideologically belong.

My first feeling was to truly empathize with Obama. I still kind of do. Here his pastor has publicly turned on him, trying to draw attention to himself. But the questions remain: how much can you listen to these kinds of sermons and not become a believer? how can you think this isn't going to come up in a national election? What was he thinking? Was he just trying to be part of the black community that he really wasn't in his upbringing? (Again, one can empathize, truly Obama, abandoned by a father and stepfather, physically separate from the white world he was raised in, must have been looking for community; who wouldn't?

But the greatest marvelling is reserved for Reverend Wright. I have just taught a class on great speeches of the 20th century, and we of course spent a lot of time on Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I've Been to the Mountaintop, and I Have a Dream. What masterpieces, what logic, what eloquence, what depth, what heights, what personal revelation, what audience-awareness. His peroration the night before he was killed brings me to tears. And what do we get from Wright? Silly little rhymes. Chris Rock style put downs of white people. Profane ramblings. Assertions about politics with not a shred of evidence, and just plain nonsense.

Dr. King never disrespected anyone. He had prophetic things to say about white people, who deserved it all, but he also realized the movement would go nowhere without white support, white sympathy. He knew disrespect would get him nowhere. Barack has done a great job of building on, or convincing a lot of people that he is building on, Dr. King's legacy.

And that's where I end up with Obama. He's still an unknown entity, and logic should tell people he has miles to go before he is qualified to sleep in the White House. But people want to believe, and he looks like fertile ground for belief.

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