Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The company Barack Obama’s kept

Was Obama clueless about Wright over two decades?


You know that bus under which Barack Obama threw his grandmother (a "typical white woman" who "has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe") when he addressed the Jeremiah Wright Jr. matter the first time? It roared back down the campaign trail last week, and Obama tossed Wright—the man, as he said in his Philadelphia speech, "I can no more disown ... than I can disown the black community"—right under there with granny.

The only question that remains is the same one that remained after Obama's first stab at putting distance between himself and Wright's hate-filled crazy talk: What took so long?

"What we saw (recently) out of Reverend Wright ... is antithetical to our campaign, it is antithetical to what I am about," Obama said of Wright's show at the National Press Club. "It is not what I think America stands for. ... I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks, but what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it."

OK, fine. Obama's had it with Wright. The question still remains: What took so long?

After all, Obama's pastor didn't break any new ground Monday when it came to "outrageous" and "divisive." It was the same racial poison and anti-American claptrap he's trafficked in for years. Hailing Louis Farrakhan, equating America with al-Qaida, blaming the U.S. government for unleashing the AIDS virus on the black community—the material that Obama found nasty enough to condemn was the stuff of old Wright sermons.

The only thing new was Wright's assertion that Obama had to distance himself because he's a politician. Perhaps this is what Obama deems outrageous and appalling—the notion he's just another politician—though it's the sanest thing that Wright said at his lunatic extravaganza.

Obama is asking American voters to believe that all this wrongheaded Wright stuff is all new to him. This is asking too much. His claim that he never heard, or never heard of, Wright's exotic pronouncements over two decades is just incredible. In fact, after initially denying he'd ever heard anything controversial from Wright, Obama admitted in his Philadelphia speech that he had found some of Wright's views offensive.

Was Obama clueless about Wright over two decades? Or has he been disingenuous about Wright over the last months? It's one or the other. Neither cluelessness nor disingenuousness is attractive in a president.

"I'm particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people," he said.

Sorry. This may be a distraction from the campaign to make Obama president, but it's not a distraction from what a presidential campaign should be about. The fact is we know little about Obama. He makes a good set speech, but his supermodel-thin record does not match his uplifting words about unity. On the contrary. Given all this, his associations, past and present, are especially relevant. They're a window into his judgment. They may not be an indication of what views he embraces—I cannot believe they are—but they're an indication of what views he's tolerated.

Obama's asking voters to elect him to the world's most personal and powerful office. Imagine if John McCain had a 20-year association with a pastor-confidant who spewed the white flip-side of the Wright stuff. Imagine if he had a working relationship with a still famously unrepentant bomber of abortion clinics in the 1970s—a William Ayers of the violent right. The guess here is that this would be a burning, character-clarifying issue rather than a distraction, even though McCain has a far thicker record of public service than Obama, and properly so.

After all, we would be told, "You are judged by the company you keep," "Birds of a feather flock together," "You cannot choose your family, but you can choose your friends." And your pastor.

And, of course, Obama's current apologists would be saying all this, and they would be right to do so.

And, if those associations happened to be back in a distant past? They'd probably quote the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: "The chickens are coming home to roost."

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