Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Yesterday in Philadelphia, Barack Obama delivered his speech about race and his relationship with Pastor Jeremiah Wright. Some reviewers I’ve heard considered it to be on a par with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” I seriously doubt it, and will be surprised if it is remembered or revered as long, by so many of all ethnic groups and nationalities.
As oratory goes, it wasn’t even one of the Senator’s best. The introduction was stock Obama verbiage, the same emotional, historic prelude we’ve heard before. (Am I the only one who keeps waiting for him to get to the point?) That “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” suggests that Black churches and their memberships share similar views. His comparison between Pastor Wright and the older white grandmother who raised Senator Obama was inappropriate. The latter shared her personal fears and prejudices of two generations ago in private with her grandson – for whom she cared despite his bi-racial heritage. The Pastor, on the other hand, shouted his prejudices from the pulpit of his church to teach his parishioners, impressionable children and budding politicians among them.
Over the past 20 years during which Pastor Wright has been his spiritual advisor, did Senator Obama become the voice of reason within his church, in opposition to the Pastor’s admittedly objectionable points of view? Did he, at the very least, move his family membership from the Pastor’s church to another whose clergy offered points of view consistent with those which the Senator professes to be his own? What conversations did he have with his two young children who were exposed to the Pastor’s preaching, week in, and week out, as they were growing up?
It’s not at all clear that the Senator who tolerated Pastor Wright’s rants can be expected to emphatically discourage those sentiments elsewhere in our country and in the world were he to be elected President.
I would have voted for Colin Powell for President, his Republican affiliation notwithstanding, without a moment’s hesitation. I consider him an exceptional American, particularly well-suited, by virtue of his experience and intellect, for the office of President. And I am certain there are other highly qualified African Americans, of both genders, that I and the electorate in general would enthusiastically support, and with whom we would entrust the management of our government, and the security of our country. It may just turn out that Barack Obama isn’t one of them. For all but a relatively few of us, this election has never been about race, or gender for that matter.
The Senator is emphatic about his rejection of Pastor’s Wright’s points of view, an assertion which I accept without question or skepticism, the timing and circumstances of his comments yesterday notwithstanding. My problem with Barack Obama has nothing to do with the color of his skin – a ridiculous notion that distracts from the truth of the matter, although the argument may have worked for his campaign, until now. (See “Channeling JFK,” posted March 14.) It’s his lack of experience, and the overwhelming sense I have that he’s all talk, however well-spoken, and too little substance. To these two, I now add a third concern: That he lacks of the strength of character to correct prejudice, stand up against ignorance, and dispel anger whenever and wherever he encounters it.
He repudiates, but is slow to distance. He objects, but does not change. He explains, and thinks that is enough. So next Sunday, or the Sunday after the Inauguration, when the Obama family goes to church, and should Pastor Wright happen to be the guest speaker that day, does the Senator sit there once again, accepting by virtue of his silent example what the Pastor has to say? Whatever your ethnicity, what would you want your President to do?