Just as the dust surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's long-term association with controversial minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright has begun to settle comes new reports of the democratic presidential hopeful's connection to another racially divisive public figure-the stridently homophobic Rev. James T. Meeks, an Illinois state senator who also serves as the pastor of Chicago's 22,000 member strong Salem Baptist Church.
Described in a 2004 Chicago Sun Times article as someone Barack Obama regularly seeks out for "spiritual counsel", James Meeks, who will serve as an Obama delegate at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, is a long-time political ally to the democratic frontrunner.
When Obama ran for the U.S. Senate in 2003, he frequently campaigned at Salem Baptist Church while Rev. Meeks appeared in television ads supporting the Illinois senator's campaign. Later, according to the same Chicago Sun Times article, on the night after he won the Democratic primary, Sen. Obama attended bible study at Meeks' church `for prayer' and `to say thank you.'
Since that time, not only has Meeks himself served on Obama's exploratory committee for the presidency and been listed on the Obama's campaign website as one of the senator's `influential black supporters', but his church choir was called on to raise their voices in praise at a rally the night Obama announced his run for the White House back in 2007. Interestingly, the Chicago Sun Times has also reported that both Meeks and Obama share a history of substantial campaign contributions from indicted real estate magnate Tony Rezko.
The problem for Obama is that Rev. James Meeks, like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, preaches a message that appears to be directly at odds with the promise of hope, unity and bridging social, racial and political divisions upon which his campaign is built.
Over the years, Rev. Meeks has garnered significant media attention as a result of a number of racially charged remarks he's made from both behind and out in front of the pulpit. Most notably, in 2006, Meeks came under fire for an inflammatory sermon he gave in which he savaged Chicago mayor Richard Daley and others, including African-Americans who were Daley allies.
In the course of July 5, 2006 attack, Rev. James Meeks ranted: "We don't have slave masters. We got mayors. But they still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able, or to be educated." "You got some preachers that are house niggers. You got some elected officials that are house niggers. And rather than them trying to break this up, they gonna fight you to protect this white man," Meeks said in a sermon tape which he later defended in an interview with Chicago CBS2 reporter, Mike Flannery.
Perhaps of even more concern than race-baiting diatribes like these is Rev. Meeks disturbing history of antagonism towards the LGBT community. A spring 2007 newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) named Meeks one of the "10 leading black religious voices in the anti-gay movement". The newsletter cites him as both "a key member of Chicago's `Gatekeepers' network, an interracial group of evangelical ministers who strive to erase the division between church and state" and "a stalwart anti-gay activist. [who]. has used his House of Hope mega-church to launch petition drives for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a major state-level `family values' pressure group that lauded him last year for leading African Americans in `clearly understanding the threat of gay marriage.'"
The SPLC newsletter also noted that, "Meeks and the IFI are partnered with Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defense Fund, major anti-gay organizations of the Christian Right. They also are tightly allied with Americans for Truth, an Illinois group that said in a press release last year that `fighting AIDS without talking against homosexuality is like fighting lung cancer without talking against smoking.'"
On a more personal level, Meeks has reportedly blamed "Hollywood Jews for bringing us Brokeback Mountain" and actively campaigned to defeat SB3186, an Illinois LGBT non-discrimination bill, while serving in the Illinois state legislature alongside Obama. According to a 2006 Chicago Sun Times article, his church sponsored a "Halloween fright night" which "consigned to the flames of hell two mincing young men wearing body glitter who were supposed to be homosexuals."
And so here we are again confronted with a situation in which Barack Obama's choice of allies is likely to confound voters. Though his relationship with Rev. Meeks is not nearly as significant as his affiliation with "spiritual mentor" Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Obama's ties to Meeks are nonetheless disconcerting, particularly in the wake of his recent address on race in America and his campaign's early fumble surrounding the decision to invite homophobic gospel artist Donnie McClurkin to perform at a campaign Faith and Family Values fundraiser in South Carolina.
Barack backs away from what he really believes
During his first run for elected office, Barack Obama played a greater role than his aides now acknowledge in crafting liberal stands on gun control, the death penalty and abortion - positions that appear at odds with the more moderate image he has projected during his presidential campaign. The evidence comes from an amended version of an Illinois voter group's detailed questionnaire, filed under his name during his 1996 bid for a state Senate seat.
Late last year, in response to a Politico story about Obama's answers to the original questionnaire, his aides said he "never saw or approved" the questionnaire. They asserted the responses were filled out by a campaign aide who "unintentionally mischaracterize[d] his position." But a Politico examination determined that Obama was actually interviewed about the issues on the questionnaire by the liberal Chicago nonprofit group that issued it. And it found that Obama - the day after sitting for the interview - filed an amended version of the questionnaire, which appears to contain Obama's own handwritten notes added to one answer.
The two questionnaires, provided to Politico with assistance from political sources opposed to Obama's presidential campaign, were later supplied directly by the group, Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization. Obama and his then-campaign manager, who Obama's campaign asserts filled out the questionnaires, were familiar with the group, its members and its positions, since both were active in it before Obama's 1996 state Senate run.
Through an aide, Obama, who won the group's endorsement as well as the statehouse seat, did not dispute that the handwriting was his. But he contended it doesn't prove he completed, approved - or even read - the latter questionnaire. "Sen. Obama didn't fill out these state Senate questionnaires - a staffer did - and there are several answers that didn't reflect his views then or now," Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama's campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. "He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn't change the fact that some answers didn't reflect his views. His 11 years in public office do."
But the questionnaires provide fodder to question Obama's ideological consistency and electability. Those questions are central to efforts by Obama's presidential rival Hillary Clinton to woo the superdelegates whose votes represent her best chance to wrest the Democratic nomination from Obama. Taken together - and combined with later policy pronouncements - the two 1996 questionnaires paint a picture of an inexperienced Obama still trying to feel his way around major political issues and less constrained by the nuance that now frames his positions on sensitive issues. Consider the question of whether minors should be required to get parental consent - or at least notify their parents - before having abortion.
The first version of Obama's questionnaire responds with a simple "No."
The amended version, though, answers less stridently: "Depends on how young - possibly for extremely young teens, i.e., 12- or 13-year-olds."
By 2004, when his campaign filled out a similar questionnaire for the IVI-IPO during his campaign for U.S. Senate, the answer to a similar question contained still more nuance, but also more precision. "I would oppose any legislation that does not include a bypass provision for minors who have been victims of, or have reason to fear, physical or sexual abuse," he wrote.
The evolution continued at least through late last year, when his campaign filled out a questionnaire for a nonpartisan reproductive health group that answered a similar question with even more nuance. "As a parent, Obama believes that young women, if they become pregnant, should talk to their parents before considering an abortion. But he realizes not all girls can turn to their mother or father in times of trouble, and in those instances, we should want these girls to seek the advice of trusted adults - an aunt, a grandmother, a pastor," his campaign wrote to RH Reality Check. "Unfortunately, instead of encouraging pregnant teens to seek the advice of adults, most parental consent bills that come before Congress or state legislatures criminalize adults who attempt to help a young woman in need and lack judicial bypass and other provisions that would permit exceptions in compelling cases."
Both versions of the 1996 questionnaires provide answers his presidential campaign disavows to questions about whether Obama supports capital punishment and state legislation to "ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns." He responded simply "No" and "Yes," respectively, to those questions on both questionnaires. But a fact sheet provided by his campaign flatly denies Obama ever held those views, asserting he "consistently supported the death penalty for certain crimes but backed a moratorium until problems were fixed." And it points out that as a state senator, he led an effort to reform Illinois' death penalty laws.
On guns, the fact sheet says he "has consistently supported common-sense gun control, as well as the rights of law-abiding gun owners." After Politico's story on the first questionnaire, Clinton aides seized on the handgun-ban answer in particular, which a campaign press release asserted called into question Obama's electability.
That was a curious argument to make in a Democratic primary. But Republicans will certainly seek to make it in the general election if Obama is the Democratic standard-bearer against the presumptive GOP nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
It could also provide ammunition for a line of attack quietly peddled for some time by Republicans. They allege Obama has a penchant for blaming his staff for gaffes ranging from missing a union event in New Hampshire to circulating opposition research highlighting the Clintons' ties to India and Indian-Americans to underestimating the amount of cash bundled for his campaigns by his former fundraiser, indicted businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko.
And the questionnaires play into storylines pushed by both Republicans and Clinton suggesting Obama has altered his views to appeal to differing audiences. That suggestion is galling to many members of IVI-IPO, some of whom have relationships with Obama that date back nearly 15 years. The group had endorsed Obama in every race he'd run - including his failed long-shot 2000 primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) - until now. The group's 37-member board of directors, meeting last year soon after Obama distanced himself from the first questionnaire, stalemated in its vote over an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary. Forty percent supported Obama, 40 percent sided with Clinton and 20 percent voted for other candidates or not to endorse.
"One big issue was: Does he or does he not believe the stuff he told us in 1996?" said Aviva Patt, who has been involved with the IVI-IPO since 1990 and is now the group's treasurer. She volunteered for Obama's 2004 Senate campaign, but voted to endorse the since-aborted presidential campaign of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and professed disappointment over Obama's retreat from ownership of the questionnaire. "I always believed those to be his views," she said, adding some members of the board argued that Obama's 1996 answers were "what he really believes in, and he's tailoring it now to make himself more palatable as a nationwide candidate."
Dobry, Patt and current IVI-IPO state chairman David K. Igasaki, a Clinton supporter, agreed Obama likely didn't write every word of his campaign's 1996 answers. But they all dismissed as unbelievable his presidential campaign's assertion that Obama never saw or signed off on the state Senate questionnaires. Campaigns are routinely bombarded with all manner of questionnaires from advocacy groups of every stripe, so it's not uncommon to have staffers fill them out in candidates' names. But usually there's some process by which the answers are vetted to insure consistency with the candidates' views.
And there were plenty of reasons to believe that occurred in the case of Obama's 1996 IVI-IPO questionnaire. The group was very influential in Obama's South Side district. It also was a leader on government reform issues, which Obama has made a centerpiece of his political persona. He and his campaign manager, Carol Harwell, were both active with the IVI-IPO prior to his candidacy, and they had once helped interview candidates seeking the group's endorsement, according to Igasaki.
Even the Left are worried about Obama's lack of patriotism
We would argue that the 2008 candidate who most resembles John Kerry is Barack Obama. Just as Kerry presented himself as a war hero when the reality turned out to be more, shall we say, nuanced, so Obama's claims of being a unifier and a "postracial" candidate have fallen apart with the revelation that his "spiritual mentor" is an anti-American and antiwhite reactionary.
Someone calling himself "Universal," posting on MyDD.com--an Angry Left site, mind you, not a Republican one--has put together an anti-Obama ad that juxtaposes footage from the attack on the World Trade Center with clips of Jeremiah Wright saying "God damn America," "chickens coming home to roost" and other greatest hits, along with Obama's wife, Michelle, declaring that she has never before been proud of America, and Obama himself announcing his plans to slash defense programs.
The video, too long at almost five minutes, is amateurish but powerful. Again, its author is a Democrat, who means to warn his party of the perils of nominating Obama:
If we choose Obama as our nominee, we are locked-in to this narrative. There is no going back, no bogus NBC polls to save the day. No Anderson Cooper softball interviews or phony charges of racism that will rescue us. The opponent doesn't care. All the thoughtfulness and restraint of a Democratic adversary will be gone. We are on the precipice of electoral disaster. It is our party's leaders' RESPONSIBILITY to give us a chance to compete in November.
Will the Demcorats listen? We doubt it. The other day we got an email from a friend of ours, a left-wing intellectual, who professes to believe that "God damn America" is a patriotic sentiment and who argues that criticism of Wright is racist because it doesn't make allowances for the idiom of the black church. Echoing that latter argument, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, is a respected scholar of religion:
Wright "goes beyond the bounds. That's why it's so hard to translate and why excerpts don't do well," said Rev. Martin Marty, a retired professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "In today's world, where you can debate these things instead of blast away like the prophets did, it's sort of an alien language for most people."
It reminds us of that scene in "Airplane!" in which the old lady says, "Oh Stewardess! I speak jive!" But Wright is not speaking a foreign tongue or some impenetrable slang. "God damn America" is plain English. The problem for Obama is that the words of his spiritual mentor are easy, not hard, to understand. Are his supporters really going to call American voters racist for finding profane verbal assaults on their own country offensive? Good luck trying to win an election that way.
Obama, the appeaser
For millions of Americans, the major attraction to Barack Obama is his call for national unity, a summoning to our shared values and common interests. With his charismatic eloquence, this inspirational ideal has single-handedly made him a political phenomenon and the Democratic front-runner.
But Obama's unity appeal, it turns out, has a weak link, one that is dangerous in a President. For revealing it, we can thank the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or, more precisely, Obama's tepid reaction to the outlandish, anti-American things Wright has said. The more he talks about Wright, the more troubling Obama's approach becomes. In a word, he is guilty of appeasement.
In a private context, his stubborn loyalty to his longtime pastor might be admirable. But as someone seeking the presidency, Obama has flunked a critical test of national leadership. By continuing to defend Wright even as he criticizes some of his remarks as "offensive" and "stupid," Obama refuses to draw the important value and factual distinctions a President must draw in a crisis. At heart, his is a "peace at any price" approach that has no business in the Oval Office.
Consider, for example, that Obama, alone among all major candidates this year, said he would meet our enemies without conditions, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. If his approach to Wright were applied, Obama would emerge from that meeting by condemning Ahmadinejad's threat to wipe Israel off the map while also condemning American and Israeli policies. This moral equivalency would be tacit support for Iran's warped grievances, and perhaps for its nuclear program.
After all, we have nuclear weapons and so does Israel, so who are we to deny Iran? Or, as Obama put it Friday when talking about race relations, "People all want the same thing."
They don't, but appeasement thinking often credits everybody with equally good and worthy intentions. That was the mistake of the most infamous appeaser of modern times, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who, with France's help, gave in to Adolf Hitler in hopes of heading off war. In exchange for sacrificing innocent Czechs and others living on lands Hitler wanted, Chamberlain famously waved a treaty with Hitler's name on it that he insisted would secure "peace for our time." Within days, Herr Hitler, as Chamberlain called him, attacked his neighbors and within a year Europe was engulfed in World War II.
Would Obama be so naive or craven? Because of his limited experience, we don't know. That's why the Wright episode, the most difficult issue of his idealistic campaign, takes on huge importance. The lessons are not pretty.
He sloppily compared Wright's virulent anti-Americanism with his grandmother's private expressions of racial prejudice in a way that makes them seem equally guilty. He complained repeatedly, including on Friday on ABC's "The View," that the profane, inflammatory remarks captured on video clips are a mere "snippet" of Wright's many sermons.
What "broader aspect" offsets such hate and lunacy? With new examples emerging of anti-Semitic writings in the bulletin put out by Wright's church, there is no mitigating context.
What the Wright material does is show the hollowness at the core of Obama's unity message. He can't even bring people he has worshiped with for 20 years together to reject Wright's false charges against this country and whites. They are standing on the side of hate and Obama has not brought any of them to reason.
There is no dialog about race that can span the idiocy of claims that the government invented the HIV virus to create the genocide of blacks. That blood liable is so false, so wrong so hateful that just rejecting it is not enough for Obama. If he continues fellowship and association with that kind of hatred, it suggest that his condemnation really is "just words."
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