Barack Obama's black pastor plunged back into the foaming currents of the Democratic presidential race today with a defiant and aggressive performance in front of the media in which he refused to recant any of his most bitterly contested views. Instead, the Rev Jeremiah Wright declared that the wave of hostility towards his sermons in the past weeks represented "an attack on the black church", whose traditions are still "invisible" to most Americans. Mr Obama has condemned Mr Wright's most incendiary remarks, but declines to disavow the Chicago preacher who for the past 20 years has been responsible for kindling his Christian faith, as well as marrying him and baptising his children.
David Axelrod, Mr Obama's chief strategist, did little to conceal his dismay at the re-emergence of Mr Wright into the spotlight with three high-profile appearances in as many days. "We don't have any control over Reverend Wright," he said. "There's not a thing we can do about it. Obviously, I don't think we would have encouraged him to go on a media tour."
Selectively edited video clips of Mr Wright's sermons circulating widely on television and the internet show him screaming into the microphone "God damn America!" or suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were an instance of "chickens coming home to roost". These have already surfaced in a Republican attack advertisements labelling Mr Obama as an extremist and are certain to feature in a general election campaign if he succeeds in becoming the Democratic nominee.
Republican nominee-elect John McCain said yesterday that he accepted Mr Obama's assurances that he did not share the pastor's opinions, but added: "I also understand why millions of Americans may...view this as a political issue."
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington this morning, Mr Wright said that the firestorm he had ignited was because white people did not understand the tradition of black preaching, which was neither "bombastic" nor "controversial" - just "different". If God intended Mr Obama to be president then "no white racist and no political pundit will get in the way", he added.
Asked to explain his 9/11 comments, he bristled and suggested that people focusing on his remarks had never listened to the entire sermon. "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back to you," he said. "Those are Biblical principles." He similarly rejected accusations that he was unpatriotic. "I served six years in the military," he said. "How many years did [Vice-President] Cheney serve?" At several points, he was greeted with whoops and standing ovations from supporters in the audience, which added to the discomfort of the overwhelmingly white journalists present for the breakfast event.
On Sunday Mr Wright had spoken in front of a 10,000-strong NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ) audience in Detroit where he also proclaimed a message that there were only "differences", not "deficiencies" between ethnic groups. But he then went on to mimic the Boston accent of President Kennedy, who he said had pronounced "ask" as "ear-sk", and the Texas drawl of President Johnson - "ma follo Om-oricans" - adding: "It was only African-American children who were told they could not speak English properly."
Today he declared: "The Christianity of the slaveholder is not the same as the Christianity of the slave," before pointing out "this country has never apologised" to America's blacks. "I'm not going to forgive you for stepping on my foot if you're still stepping on my foot." He ended this remark by turning to his questioner, saying: "Understand? Capiche?" Asked about his claim that the US Government invented the HIV/Aids virus "as a means of genocide against people of colour", he replied: "I believe our Government is capable of anything."
A new Associated Press poll suggested for the first time in weeks that Democratic voters now believe that Hillary Clinton is more electable than Mr Obama, leading Mr McCain by 50 to 41 per cent.
Mr Obama, who chose to appear at a largely white Indianapolis church yesterday, is facing criticism from Democratic strategists for failing to anticipate the row over his pastor. One said: "I don't think any senior member of his staff had ever set foot in a black church." Oprah Winfrey, the TV talk show host who is also based in Chicago and has backed Mr Obama strongly, abruptly stopped attending Mr Wright's church a few years ago.
Mr Wright suggested today that he did not take Mr Obama's criticism of him very seriously, saying: "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on soundbites, based on polls - preachers have a different person to whom they are accountable." He then added, to laughter: "I am not running for office; although I'm open to being vice-president."
Wright's Voice Could Spell Doom for Obama
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, explaining this morning why he had waited so long before breaking his silence about his incendiary sermons, offered a paraphrase from Proverbs: "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Barack Obama's pastor would have been wise to continue to heed that wisdom.
Should it become necessary in the months from now to identify the moment that doomed Obama's presidential aspirations, attention is likely to focus on the hour between nine and ten this morning at the National Press Club. It was then that Wright, Obama's longtime pastor, reignited a controversy about race from which Obama had only recently recovered - and added lighter fuel.
Speaking before an audience that included Marion Barry, Cornel West, Malik Zulu Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam official Jamil Muhammad, Wright praised Louis Farrakhan, defended the view that Zionism is racism, accused the United States of terrorism, repeated his view that the government created the AIDS virus to cause the genocide of racial minorities, stood by other past remarks ("God damn America") and held himself out as a spokesman for the black church in America.
In front of 30 television cameras, Wright's audience cheered him on as the minister mocked the media and, at one point, did a little victory dance on the podium. It seemed as if Wright, jokingly offering himself as Obama's vice president, was actually trying to doom Obama; a member of the head table, American Urban Radio's April Ryan, confirmed that Wright's security was provided by bodyguards from Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
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."
Wright also argued, at least four times over the course of the hour, that he was speaking not for himself but for the black church. "This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," the minister said. "It is an attack on the black church." He positioned himself as a mainstream voice of African American religious traditions. "Why am I speaking out now?" he asked. "If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition and my grandma, you got another thing coming."
That significantly complicates Obama's job as he contemplates how to extinguish Wright's latest incendiary device. Now, he needs to do more than express disagreement with his former pastor's view; he needs to refute his former pastor's suggestion that Obama privately agrees with him.
Wright seemed aggrieved that his inflammatory quotations were out of the full "context" of his sermons -- yet he repeated many of the same accusations in the context of a half-hour Q&A session this morning. 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."
His views on Farrakhan and Israel? "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; that's what I think about him. . . . 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."
He denounced those who "can worship God on Sunday morning, wearing a black clergy robe, and kill others on Sunday evening, wearing a white Klan robe." He praised the communist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua. He renewed his belief that the government created AIDS as a means of genocide against people of color ("I believe our government is capable of doing anything").
And he vigorously renewed demands for an apology for slavery: "Britain has apologized to Africans. But this country's leaders have refused to apologize. So until that apology comes, I'm not going to keep stepping on your foot and asking you, does this hurt, do you forgive me for stepping on your foot, if I'm still stepping on your foot. Understand that? Capisce?" Capisce, reverend. All too well.
The Great Divider
By JAMES TARANTO
Democratic front-runner Barack Obama was supposed to unite the country, overcoming racial and even partisan division. How's that working out? As far as bridging the partisan divide, one may give him credit, but only in a backhanded way. His not-quite-insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination has had the consequence of creating a tactical alliance between Hillary Clinton and Republicans, so that Mrs. Clinton has, at least for the moment, joined the vast right-wing conspiracy, as we noted last month. Mrs. Clinton even got the endorsement of Richard Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary.
But a corollary to this is that his own party is divided--among other ways, along racial lines. The New York Times has some evidence:
The third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and one of the country's most influential African-American leaders sharply criticized former President Bill Clinton [Thursday] afternoon for what he called Mr. Clinton's "bizarre" conduct during the Democratic primary campaign. Representative James E. Clyburn, an undeclared superdelegate from South Carolina who is the Democratic whip in the House, said that "black people are incensed over all of this," referring to statements that Mr. Clinton had made in the course of the heated race between his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama. . . .
In an interview with The New York Times late Thursday, Mr. Clyburn said Mr. Clinton's conduct in this campaign had caused what might be an irreparable breach between Mr. Clinton and an African-American constituency that once revered him. "When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar," Mr. Clyburn said. "I think black folks feel strongly that that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation."
We were initially inclined to see this Clyburn's way; there months ago, we opined that it was invidious for Mr. Clinton to liken Obama to Jesse Jackson after the South Carolina primary. But this was before we learned of Obama's relationship with "spiritual mentor" Jeremiah Wright, a practitioner of "black liberation theology" who has called America the "U.S. of KKK A." Hugh Hewitt has unearthed another sermon, in which Wright declares that America is doing "the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag."
Although Obama has denounced some of Wright's remarks, he has not specified which ones, and he has said, "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." In fact, Politico's Ben Smith reported last week that Obama's campaign distributed a handbill in Philadelphia before the primary that touted the candidate's relationship with Wright.
Wright himself resurfaced last week, sitting for an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers. It was an embarrassing softball affair in which Moyers at times was even less sensible than Wright. At one point Wright rightly observed that "we have the freedom here in this country" to denounce our government, "whereas [in] some other places, you're dead if [you] say the wrong thing about your government." To which Moyers replied, "Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you've said here in this country."
Which is true, if being "almost crucified" means being subjected to harsh criticism. By that definition, Wright has almost crucified America on many a Sunday. During the interview, Wright had this to say about Obama:
He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do.
Yet at the beginning of the interview, Wright explained that from the start, he has taken a political approach to the ministry:
Wright: Actually a good friend of yours, I believe, and one of my professors, got me in the predicament I'm in today, Dr. Martin Marty, one of my professors at the University of Chicago--
Moyers: One of the great distinguished historians of religion in America.
Wright: He put a challenge to us in 1970, late '69, early '70, I'll never forget. He said, "You know, you come into the average church on a Sunday morning and you think you've stepped from the real world into a fantasy world. And what do I mean by that?" He said pick up the church bulletin. You leave a world, Vietnam, or today you leave a world, Iraq, over 4,000 dead, American boys and girls, 100,000, 200,000 depending on which count, Iraqi dead. Afghanistan, Darfur, rapes in the Congo, Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward, that's the world you leave. He said, "How come our bulletins, how come the faith preached in our churches does not relate to the world in which our church members leave at the benediction?" . . . What do we do in ministry that speaks to the community and the world in which we sit? That's Martin Marty. That's Martin Marty.
Needless to say, Moyers did not confront Wright about this contradiction. Politico's Smith has another charming example of unifying rhetoric coming from the Obama campaign:
[Obama campaign manager] David Plouffe tells [National Journal's] Linda Douglass that real racists are probably voting Republican in any case: "The vast, vast majority of voters who would not vote for Barack Obama in November based on race are probably firmly in John McCain's camp already," he says.
We agree with Wright on one thing: Obama is a politician, and "he does what politicians do." By the standards of politics--that is, besting opponents at the ballot box--Obama has done quite well, a lot better than most people expected when Mrs. Clinton was inevitable. But by the standards his supporters have set for him--transcending the differences that divide the country--one would be hard-pressed to say he's been even modestly successful.
Wright to Obama: 'Coming after you'
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that he will try to change national policy by "coming after" Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) if he is elected president. The pastor also insisted Obama "didn't denounce" him and "didn't distance himself" from Wright's controversial remarks, but "did what politicians do." Wright implied Obama still agrees with him by saying: "He had to distance himself, because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was [portrayed as] anti-American."
Wright, who was Obama's pastor for 20 years and performed his wedding, made the explosive comment during a chaotic question-and-answer session at the National Press Club in Washington, following the pastor's remarks about the black church in America. "I said to Barack Obama last year, `If you get elected, November the 5th I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people,' Wright said.
The minister was speaking as part of a tour that is drawing heavy news coverage and causing a huge headache for Obama's presidential campaign. Obama, seeking to distance himself from remarks by Wright that some have taken as anti-American, has emphasized that Wright has retired. But Wright talks of their relationship in the present tense. "I'm a pastor; he's a member," he said. "I'm not a `spiritual mentor.' "
In the Democratic debate on April 16, Obama referred to Wright as "somebody who is associated with me that I have disowned," then clarified that to say he had disowned the comments. But Wright objected to a question saying Obama had denounced him. "Whoever wrote that question doesn't read or watch the news," Wright said. "He did not denounce me. He distanced himself from some of my remarks, like most of you, never having heard the sermon, all right? . "He didn't distance himself. He had to distance himself, because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was [portrayed as] anti-American. . He did, as I said, what politicians do."
Obama Distorted Rev. Wright's Background
In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Barack Obama again fabricated the background of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to try to excuse his longtime pastor's denunciations of America and of whites. Referring to racial discrimination, violence, and segregation, Obama said Wright "went through experiences that I never went through." In his speech on race in Philadelphia, Obama made similar claims. He described a "lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family . . ."
Obama said this was "the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up . . . For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years." But as detailed in an April 13 Newsman article, "Obama's Rev. Wright Mythology," Obama's characterization of his mentor's upbringing is untrue. Wright grew up in a racially mixed, middle-class section of Philadelphia called Germantown, which consisted of homes on broad tree-lined streets. Both his parents had good jobs: His father was a pastor; his mother was vice principal of Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Wright was privileged to attend the elite Central High School, which admits only the most highly-qualified applicants from all over the city. When Wright attended Central High, the student body was 90 percent white, according to students who attended at around the same time. Wright's classmates clearly respected him. The 211th class yearbook described him as the "epitome of what Central endeavors to imbue in its students."
In contrast to Wright, Bill Cosby, who also attended Central High, has denounced the black culture of victimhood that Wright has promoted in his sermons, a culture that Cosby says sets up blacks for failure.
Since the Newsmax story on Wright's background ran, only Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has picked up on the fact that Obama's characterization of his preacher's upbringing is fiction.
Meanwhile, the coverage resurgence of Wright over the weekend spotlights the fact that, by suppressing any mention of Wright until mid-March, the media in effect selected Obama as the Democrats' nominee. Wright appeared in a Bill Moyers interview on Friday, gave a talk to the NAACP in Detroit on Sunday, and spoke to the National Press Club this morning. As a result, clips of Wright denouncing America and claiming the country introduced the AIDS virus to kill off blacks have been blanketing the airwaves. Moreover, at the NAACP, Wright in effect ratified the black culture of failure by saying African-Americans' brains are different than those of whites: If they speak differently from whites, they are not wrong - just different, he said, implying that they should not be corrected.
If the Obama-loving media had picked up on stories that Newsmax started running in January before the primaries began about Obama and his relationship with his pastor, Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be ahead today in delegates and votes. After the media finally ran the stories, Obama's double-digit lead over Clinton in national polls vanished. At the same time, John McCain shot up in the polls. As Ken Blackwell, a black columnist, recently wrote, the media have covered Obama "as if he were in a beauty pageant." In doing so, they have done a disservice to Democrats by not telling the truth about Obama and his pastor until most of the primaries were over. By not reporting how Obama is using bogus claims about Wright's upbringing to excuse his "God damn America" tirades, the media are continuing the coverup.
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