A few hours ago, Barack Obama went public on the controversy that has erupted over his spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In a sign of the times, he did it via a blog post on the Huffington Post.
Obama’s statement should be reasonably effective; he describes Wright’s comments as “the inflammatory and appalling remarks he made about our country, our politics, and my political opponents.” He goes on to say that he “vehemently disagrees[s with] and strongly condemn[s] the statements that have been the subject of this controversy.”
What is most striking about Obama’s statement is the reticence with which he refers to Wright’s racist and anti-American diatribes. He repeatedly uses phrases like “the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.” Spoken like a true lawyer! But if a reader had to rely on Obama’s post, he would have no idea what statements are “at issue.” This is the closest Obama comes to acknowledging the content of Wright’s offensive speeches:
I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies.
It took me a moment to realize that the reference to “our allies” pertains to Wright’s anti-Israel rants.
What I’d really like to know more about, though, is Wright’s position on the AIDS virus. He writes that “We started AIDS;” what is that supposed to mean? Factually, it’s incorrect. I believe that AIDS originated in Africa. It’s possible that the claim that “We started AIDS” is intended as an indictment of the San Francisco bath house culture that did so much to spread the disease, but I’ve seen no indication that this is what Wright has in mind. In any event, San Francisco didn’t “start” the virus. I don’t know how to interpret this claim that “we” started the disease as anything other than an endorsement of the fable that the CIA invented AIDS in a laboratory so as to kill off African-Americans.
This seems to me to get close to the heart of Obama’s dilemma. The fact is that lots of ridiculous claims circulate within the African-American community without being challenged. That President Bush ordered the September 11 attacks is one of those claims; of longer standing is the assertion that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus to kill blacks. I’m not sure that anyone actually believes this; it is too obviously stupid. But, believed or not, the claim is constantly repeated by African-American “leaders,” apparently including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The prevailing political correctness of recent years (another phrase for the same phenomenon is “soft bigotry”) has prevented mainstream commentators from confronting the fact that this irrationality has penetrated deeply into African-American society. Unchallenged, the sickness has spread.
Thus Barack Obama finds himself in a unique position, and at a crossroads. To his credit, he has run as a real, mainstream candidate, not a “niche” candidate like Al Sharpton, a borderline criminal whose history, to put it politely, does not bear inspection. Yet Obama drags along behind him the detritus of a swamp of irrationality that, quite deliberately, has never been drained.
No doubt Obama is perfectly well aware that the CIA did not invent the AIDS virus, and President Bush did not conceive the September 11 attacks, nor did he “lie” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But to admit these obvious propositions would separate Obama from many of his most dedicated supporters. Hence his desire to distance himself from Rev. Wright without ever specifying what, exactly, he is distancing himself from.
PAUL adds: Here’s what I take to be the key passage in Obama’s statement:
The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.
If it were true that Obama never knew that Wright was making highly objectionable comments until the start of the presidential campaign, and if Obama denounced the comments at that time, then I think he would have a good defense, i.e., he belonged to the church for years without knowing Wright