My take on Obama's recent speech in which he finally gave a decisive repudiation of the ravings of Pastor Wrong (Video here for anyone recently arrived from Mars) is that Obama sounded very hesitant and reluctant and that one speech does not undo a 20 year history of sitting at the feet of Pastor Wrong. The speech just did not ring true. It was obviously forced out of him by electoral necessity. As Afro-American blogger Baldilocks aptly puts it: "Sorry, Senator. You can't shake off this Tar Baby that easily". Anyway, Taranto does a handy summary of recent Obama events so I will lead off with that below -- JR
Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's "spiritual mentor," showed up yesterday at the National Press Club, and today Obama professed himself shocked, as Fox News reports:
Obama, declaring "that's enough," denounced Tuesday as "appalling" and "ridiculous" comments made in the last few days by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. . . . "I am outraged by the comments that were made, and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday," Obama said. "The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe they ended up giving comfort to those who prey on hate," he said.
Obama is only just now getting around to realizing this? For the past month and a half, Wright's hateful comments have been all over the news, and Obama has bestirred himself only to criticize them in the vaguest terms. Actual Obama quote: "I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy." So what was it that Wright said to prompt Obama to shout "No mas"? Take it away, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post:
Wright suggested that Obama was insincere in distancing himself from his pastor. "He didn't distance himself," Wright announced. "He had to distance himself, because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American." Explaining further, Wright said friends had written to him and said, "We both know that if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected." The minister continued: "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls."
Fox on Obama's response:
Obama said he was particularly "angered" by that suggestion. "If Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well--based on his remarks yesterday I may not know him as well as I thought either," Obama said.
Here are some of the other things Wright said, according to Milbank:
The Golden Rule justifies the 9/11 attacks: "His claim that the September 11 attacks mean 'America's chickens are coming home to roost'? Wright defended it: 'Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.' "
Farrakhan good, Israel Bad: "Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter's being vilified for and Bishop Tutu's being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century."
AIDS is a U.S. government plot: An oldie but a goodie. "I believe our government is capable of doing anything," Wright said.
Obama did, finally, denounce these comments specifically. But what particularly angered him was the suggestion that Obama is insincere. Well, we all know the real enemy is cynicism! So, was Obama sincere? Did he spent 20 years as an intimate of Wright and a parishioner of his church without ever having an inkling that the guy is a wacko hatemonger? If so, can you think of anything more terrifying than sending such a naif to the White House while there's a war on?
Where They Agree: Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright seem to agree that Wright speaks for black America:
Obama, March 18: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."
Wright, April 28: "This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It is an attack on the black church."
Is Wright really representative of "the black community" or "the black church"? We noted this exchange on Fox News's "Special Report With Brit Hume" last night:
Mort Kondracke: The idea that all this is an attack on the black church is utterly false. Juan Williams, our pal, is the author of a book on the black church, and he says that there isn't one in ten black churches that indulge in this kind of nationalism that Reverend Wright practices.
Hume: When I was covering the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988, he campaigned from the left and he did a lot of his speaking at black churches. And I went to those churches with him many times and I heard him speak, and he never said anything like this. And I said that to him here the other day, and he said no, no, no, I'm not going to touch that.
Then again, if Kondracke and Hume are right, why did the NAACP invite Wright to speak at its Detroit chapter's dinner on Sunday? The Detroit News reports on the speech:
Wright delivered an unapologetic speech on Sunday, alternately fiery and humorous as he defended the preaching that has taken center stage in the presidential campaign. . . .
While Wright's remarks have been condemned by Republican politicians and pundits to Obama and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, the minister got a rousing standing ovation at Sunday night's Detroit NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner before a crowd of nearly 10,000. Before Wright spoke, a series of Detroit religious and civil rights leaders defended him against what they called unfair media attacks and praised his ministry. Wright is "a great champion of freedom," said the Rev. Kenneth Flowers of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Missionary Church and the head of the local NAACP's religious affairs council. Flowers compared Wright to biblical prophets and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a man "who's not trying to please the establishment, but to please our God."
One of Wright's comments yesterday was especially pernicious:
"Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color."
Wright was born in Philadelphia in 1941. Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780. Wright's description of himself as having been "in chains" and "in slavery" is merely vicarious. (Presumably he believes it was God who made him "this color.") But what is really appalling is the suggestion that Farrakhan is praiseworthy because he "is not my enemy"--i.e., that offenses against blacks are the only ones that count. There is no getting around that this is a racist view.
Where are the moderate black clergymen and political leaders who have stepped up to say that Wright does not speak for them? That's not a rhetorical question; if you have examples, please send them along.
Abandon Ship! Some left-liberal commentators are now belatedly denouncing Jeremiah Wright:
Joan Walsh, Salon: "I regret that I hedged my observation about Wright's narcissism. . . . His Sunday night talk to the NAACP was mostly silly, from the questionable science behind his insistence that black children are right-brained (creative) while white children are left-brained (logical and analytical) to his mocking the way white people talk, dance, clap, worship and sing. I understand and agree with Wright's notion that "different is not deficient," but mocking white people, including JFK and LBJ, doesn't seem like the best way to get his point across."
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: "I'm sorry, but I've had it with Wright. . . . This media tour he's conducting is doing a disservice that goes beyond any impact it might have on Obama's presidential campaign. . . . Historically and theologically, he was inflating his importance in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kind of way. Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus. Sadly, it's time for Obama to return the favor."
Bob Herbert, New York Times: "For Senator Obama, the re-emergence of Rev. Wright has been devastating. The senator has been trying desperately to bolster his standing with skeptical and even hostile white working-class voters. When the story line of the campaign shifts almost entirely to the race-in-your-face antics of someone like Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama's chances can only suffer. . . . Mr. Obama seems more and more like someone buffeted by events, rather than in charge of them. Very little has changed in the superdelegate count, but a number of those delegates have expressed concern in private over Mr. Obama's inability to do better among white working-class voters and Catholics. Rev. Wright is absolutely the wrong medicine for those concerns."
But here's someone who still admires Wright, Erica Jong writing on the Puffington Host:
Wright seems utterly sincere to me. He strikes me as having a true spiritual calling. When he says, "America's chickens have come home to roost," I can't fault his logic. Haven't we been squandering hard earned taxpayer money on overseas adventures while we starve poor children? Haven't we been supporting dictators while prating of democracy? Haven't we been enriching profiteers at the expense of health care and education? You betcha. A week ago I told my audience in Rome that in the last several years, I've been ashamed to be an American.
If you agree with Jong, our guess is you'll be voting for Obama. If you disagree with Jong, how certain are you that Obama is on your side rather than hers?
Obama had two bites at a response to Pastor Wrong's latest raves
Giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt, let's say it was 11:45 AM. During lunch I read and posted the transcript of Wright's performance. Then when I was on the train home I first heard Obama's first response to Rev. Wright's hatred tour. And to be honest it was very Tepid. I was on the 6:30 train. Again to be fair lets assume that Obama had six hours between Wright at the press conference and his first response. Why does this matter?
Today Senator Obama said that the reason he didn't give a strong response to the speech yesterday was that he hadn't heard it? Now this Wright thing is potentially a campaign crushing issue, even his supporters will admit that. Now remember, I read the speech at 12ish, and saw it on the web by 2ish. So the question is, if a schmuck like me, eating a tuna fish sandwich at his desk got to read the speech by 12 and see the speech by 2, how come the man campaigning for the most powerful job on earth didn't see it by 6ish? The guy is either lying (and that when he saw the media reaction to his tepid response decided to go for "broke"), or he has the worst campaign staff in the history of politics. Considering that the man will probably be the Candidate for President nominated by the Democratic party, I am betting on the former.
Obama's Wright Turn
When Barack Obama made his official announcement that he was running for President over 14 months ago in Springfield, Illinois, the Senator made sure that his pastor Jeremiah Wright had no speaking role and was kept away from the ceremony. Obama campaign manager David Axelrod has admitted that there were concerns back then about what Wright might say.
When Senator Obama made his speech in Philadelphia on race in America following the first round of Reverend Wright media exposure several weeks back, he admitted he had heard some of the Reverend's more controversial remarks in person in church.
"I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
But now, the Senator has really had enough of Reverend Wright. In a press conference Tuesday, Obama condemned Wright, and claimed that Wright had offended him with his latest tirade on Monday at the National Press Club.
Many Americans did not have to wait for Wright's talk to the National Press Club to have taken offense. In fact, there is nothing the Reverend said Monday or with Bill Moyers on PBS, or at the NAACP dinner in Detroit (to thunderous ovations) that was in any substantive way different from what he has been saying over and over again for decades (to thunderous applause among the thousands packing Trinity Church). We had already heard about the US government bringing AIDS into the black community, and how Louis Farrakhan was a great American.
So why did this particular performance by Wright finally create the need for Obama to speak up more forcefully? That answer is simple: falling poll numbers in Indiana, North Carolina and nationally, and to that, we can safely conclude, Barack Obama takes great offense.
One of the charter members of the Obama media worship team, Chris Matthews, has already compared Obama's "courageous" actions in denouncing Wright to those of King Henry II telling Thomas Becket where to get off 8 centuries ago. That comparison will likely not resonate with many voters. Tom Shales, Hendrik Hertzberg, Andrew Sullivan, and other members of this flack troupe are sure to chime in with their vigorous applause, and with pleas for the media to get back to the real story of George Bush's crimes against humanity.
Barack Obama has been showing up at Wright's church for close to 20 years and was exposed to his brand of crackpot racist anti-American lunacy on more than one occasion during this long period. So it is really way too generous, I think, to applaud the Senator for his dramatic "Sister Souljah moment" with his late-to-the party denunciation of Wright. A real Sister Souljah moment would have required leaving Trinity Church before Wright became politically inconvenient for Obama, and not when Wright is beginning to threaten Obama's bid for the Democratic nomination.
Will Obama's pivot work politically? If he earns a split on May 6th, winning North Carolina, and losing Indiana, he will have avoided a political freefall. North Carolina is a state with a 21% African American population, and black voters make up about a third of Democratic Party primary voters. Given that Obama has been winning 90% of the vote among blacks, he would need but 30% of the white vote to win a narrow victory in North Carolina.
It is likely that Obama's team saw a sharp drop-off in white support in North Carolina with the latest Wright feeding frenzy the last few days. While most pundits have been focusing on the perceived tight race in Indiana, and assumed North Carolina was a lock for Obama, the Clinton team has been spending more money on media in North Carolina the last week than in Indiana, and sent Bill Clinton down to work the white rural areas, the same kinds of places where he helped deliver huge margins for Hillary in Pennsylvania.
Then came word that popular Governor Michael Easley was backing Clinton. So suddenly the Clintons are smelling the possibility of a sweep, including an upset in North Carolina, or at the least a very close finish there. These results would put more doubts in the minds of the nearly 300 super delegates who remain uncommitted that the Obama campaign is a train wreck waiting to happen in the general election.
One part of this story that I have not seen discussed is that while the Obama distancing from Wright is aimed at shoring up support among white voters, his campaign seems to take for granted that he will suffer no losses among black voters for his sharp statements Tuesday. In other words, they are counting on black voters winking and nodding their approval of Obama's words, as if Wright were out there on his own, when in fact he is not, and many ministers and black talk radio hosts speak just as Wright does, and have been doing so for years.
In fact, we have been told repeatedly these last few weeks, that whites just do not understand the black church vernacular, and we live in separate societies on Sundays. This may be true, but Obama is now saying he is not part of that angry chorus on Sundays, and his church's minister is out of line. Not to play the cynic, but I find this sudden split a bit inauthentic. Senator Obama has told us about Reverend Wright many times before: he was his pastor, his mentor, his moral compass, his sounding board, his teacher. But now Wright has said these horrible things at the National Press Club. And so, he must be sacrificed, at least for the benefit of lower middle income rural white voters in North Carolina and Indiana.
Barack Obama has been able to get away with projecting a different image to different groups as he has risen up the political ladder in Chicago. As long as he was a state senator or even a United States Senator, he could get away with fealty to Reverend Wright, dinner parties at Bill Ayers' house, all the while assuring white middle class and working class voters that he was a man interested in bipartisanship good government. But as many a politician before him has learned, a presidential race is an entirely different political beast
His back against the wall over his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama yesterday addressed the issue with clarity and decisiveness. If this is the start of a more direct campaign style from the Illinois Senator, there will be gains all around. And, if we may say so, not least with his heretofore fogged-up subject of taxes on capital gains.
After Senator Obama let it be known that he'd consider nearly doubling to 28% the current capital gains tax rate of 15%, he had to expect questions. In the Pennsylvania debate, the moderator pointedly asked Mr. Obama why he'd do this, since history has shown that higher rates bring less revenue. Mr. Obama's response was to take a shot at wealthy hedge fund managers.
Since then, he's done some homework on capital gains. In a weekend interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, Mr. Obama was asked again about raising capital gains rates. Though still leaving open the chance of a higher rate, he suggested "we might go back up to 20" (a number Hillary Clinton has proposed), because "I'm mindful that we've got to keep our capital gains tax to a point where we can actually get more revenue." Mark this down as economic progress.
Having just provided reassurance on the rate, he then said that the tax level on capital gains didn't matter to most Americans. "That's not something that's going to affect the average person with a 401(k) when people start talking about how, 'Well, there are, you know, millions of Americans who own stock,' most of them own stock in 401(k)s where their taxes are deferred and they pay ordinary income taxes when they finally cash out," he said.
It is true that withdrawals from 401(k)s are taxed at ordinary income rates. That does not mean that the stock holdings in tax-deferred mutual funds are somehow fenced off from rising and falling values in the market. If investors see an increase in capital gains taxes in the offing, even to 20% from 15%, many will cash out before the new rate goes into effect. Unless Senator Obama can guarantee that the economy will be in a strong growth spurt when he imposes a higher capital gains tax rate, it's likely that share prices will fall, causing a decline in the value of the 401(k)s held by average Americans.
Indeed, Mr. Obama should reconsider his belief that capital gains are mostly the province of the wealthy. Millions of middle-class Americans do in fact realize investment gains annually. In 2005, according to IRS data, 47% of all tax returns reporting capital gains were from households with incomes below $50,000, and 79% came from households with incomes below $100,000. Mr. Obama no doubt will encounter questions again about his plans for taxing capital gains. The more he looks at the issue, the more we suspect he'll discover that it matters to the people whose votes he's seeking.
Obama's trade idiocy
The man is an ignoramus
Obama is one of three Congressional sponsors of "The Patriot Employer Act", which seeks to give preferential tax status to American companies that choose not to invest overseas. His anti-globalisation rhetoric goes far beyond criticism of free-trade deals such as Nafta. Obama told voters in New Hampshire:"I would stop the import of all toys from China". China supplies 80 per cent of the toys sold in the US, so that's one heck of a pile of embargoed fluffy bunnies.
Obama's electoral calculations, at least, are rational: recent polls suggest that three quarters of voters believe that international trade has "made things worse for Americans". So as not to appear "protectionist" - perish the thought - Obama graciously concedes that "not every American job lost is due to trade". Not every job? The true figure - according to the apolitical US Council of Economic Advisors - is that only 3 per cent of US job losses can be attributed to "outsourcing".
Other figures which are never discussed are those measuring the "insourcing" of jobs, when companies from foreign countries have invested in the US. The value of those investments has been staggering - the biggest secret in a debate conducted (at least in the Democrat primaries) at a shocking level of ignorance.
The two Democrat candidates have made frequent attacks on the multi-billion dollar US trade deficit with Canada and Mexico: what Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama never acknowledge is that almost 95 per cent of the growth in that deficit since 2000 is entirely attributable to oil and gas imports. Are they seriously suggesting that America would be better off buying oil from countries without preferential trade status, such as Chavez's Venezuela or Ahmedinejad's Iran?
In fact, over the past year America's trade deficit has narrowed by $50bn, as her exports have risen faster than imports; aided by the dramatic fall in the value of the dollar, international trade is helping the US to fight recession.
This would be especially appreciated by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke: Dr Bernanke made his name as an economist specialising in the causes of the Great Depression - which you might think is just as well, given the role which history (or rather President Bush, which is not quite the same thing) has allotted him.
Dr Bernanke's dramatic cuts in interest rates demonstrate that he has no wish to repeat the errors of the Central Banking authorities of 1929, who tightened monetary policy in the teeth of a recession; but the Fed Chairman has no power to prevent a repetition of the other disaster of that era, created entirely by politicians - a protectionist trade policy. This was a policy solely designed to preserve American jobs: it slaughtered them.
The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was named after its two Republican sponsors, and passed by President Herbert Hoover, who ignored a petition against it signed - remarkably - by 1,028 economists. As Bernanke has written: "Although we economists are indeed a contentious bunch, one proposition commands almost unanimous assent. That proposition is that free trade among nations promotes economic prosperity."
With shattering predictability, America's trading partners retaliated against the Smoot-Hawley Act with import tariffs against US goods. By 1933 US imports had plunged by two thirds - and exports by a similar amount. The economy of a great trading nation all but vaporised, as a domestic stock-market led recession was transformed into a worldwide Depression.
John McCain is not quite of an age to recall all that personally; but it must help to have been born in the 1930s - he is absolutely not prepared to pander to protectionism in the manner of his competing Democrat opponents. Not only has he refused to appease such "anti-trade sentiments", he has been courageous in tackling them head on.
This week McCain travelled to recession-hit Youngstown, right in the heart of the old Ohio steel-producing belt - where Clinton and Obama had been most strident in their anti-free trade rhetoric-and told a town hall meeting: "The biggest problem is not free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy. I can't look you in the eye and tell you that I believe those jobs are coming back... [but] protectionism and isolationism have never worked in American history."
Reporters described McCain's speech as "risky". Indeed it was - he will need to win the support of such town hall meetings to secure the Presidency. It was a demonstration of pure political courage - something which Barack Obama has yet to provide: I can't find a single speech of his - brilliantly constructed and delivered as they are - in which he did anything of the kind.
Wright's Saddest Truth Overlooked
Everyone has noted and commented upon some of Reverend Wright's worst, most recent rhetoric. Even Sullivan has seen enough. I may have missed it being dealt with directly, as it should be - but the saddest and perhaps most revealing truth of all for Wright and likely some in the Black community is buried within it. It's the last portion of this phrase.
"Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color."
Think about what that really means. Those aren't the words of a proud Black individual. They are the words of someone who is angry, primarily, ... because they are Black. They are the words of a racist - of the anti-Black variety; of someone who has come to view the Black race as inferior somehow. Has Wright internalized White racism so deeply? Perhaps that explains his recent real estate choice, to retire in a gated, predominately White community.
I realize it may sound absurd and certainly isn't politically correct to point it out. But words mean things, as they say. And Wright's own words are revealing of a personal psychology as troubled as any of Obama's current political woes. Jeremiah Wright simply doesn't like Black people. Why else would he be looking for someone to blame, or holding a grudge simply because he is Black?
What a shame Wright has apparently never come to face his own truth. Perhaps his ministry would have been that much more effective had he focused his career on truly lifting up other Black individuals who feel the same way, as opposed to looking for someone to blame for what amounts to an act of God, or genes, however you want to slice it.
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