Charles Krauthammer’s piece today about Barack Obama’s reversal on Rev. Wright makes some good points. However, I disagree with Krauthammer to the extent he suggests Obama’s Philadelphia speech on the subject was insincere or fraudulent. In my view, the speech was pretty honest by political standards. The problem, in fact, was precisely that Obama generally believed what he said.
No one can be certain, of course, whether Obama spoke candidly in Philadelphia. However, subsequent events have confirmed what seemed clear enough at the time, namely that the speech did not take the most politically expedient approach. And Obama’s deep and longstanding connection with his pastor renders quite plausible his statement that he sees much merit in Wright and that Wright ought not be “disowned.” It is Obama’s about-face on these matters that smacks of expediency and fraud.
Krauthammer takes Obama to task for suggesting in Philadelphia that whites should be ashamed they were ever surprised by Wright’s remarks. I didn’t understand Obama to be saying that, exactly. I thought, instead, that Obama was pointing out that whites underestimate black anger. That might well be true. Obama’s error was the implication that anger approaching Wright-like anti-American dimensions should be taken seriously by whites or by blacks who aspire to lead America.
But again, this is a substantive error, not a matter of insincerity or fraud. In the circles in which Obama has traveled — not just African-American churches but also elite white academic institutions and activist organizations both black and white — rabid anti-Americanism is taken quite seriously. Indeed, it is usually a given that America is at best deeply flawed, and an open question whether it is too evil to be redeemed.
To a far greater degree than we had a right to expect, Obama’s Philadelphia speech candidly exhibited that mind-set. We should be grateful that it did.