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Obama's Chickens Come Home to Roost

By Robert Tracinski

Over the weekend, the Obama campaign suffered a further disaster: the Reverend Jeremiah Wright finally seized his 15 minutes of fame.

Lured by the irresistible glow of the spotlight, the reverend launched a media blitz that took him from a softball interview with Bill Moyers on Friday, to a speech to a Detroit meeting of the NAACP on Sunday, to a press conference at the National Press Club on Monday morning.

Barack Obama is now declaring himself shocked and disappointed at Wright's unrepentantly racist and anti-American views--but Obama can no longer plausibly claim innocence in this matter, because he is the one who has encouraged Wright by trying to excuse and explain his views.

This time around, the Reverend Wright told his audience Sunday night that blacks and whites have different methods of thinking. Blacks rely on "right-brain" thinking, which is more creative, while whites rely on "left-brain" thinking, which is more logical. Oh yes, and blacks have a better sense of rhythm. As Victor Davis Hanson points out, if any white man had dared to breathe these hoary stereotypes--particularly the view that blacks are less suited to logical thinking--he would have been permanently cast out of polite society. The fact that Reverend Wright expressed those views to the NAACP (and received, by all accounts, a positive response) merely indicates how far that once-venerable organization has fallen.

To the National Press Club, Wright reiterated his claim that AIDS was created by the United States government as a racist plot to kill blacks; he explained that Obama's "distancing" himself from Wright was only a political calculation "based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls"; and he also repeated his praise for Louis Farrakhan--the anti-Semitic, quasi-fascist, dictator-loving leader of the Nation of Islam--as "one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century." This part of his message was reinforced by the entourage he brought with him to the event. The Washington Post explains that the audience included Marion Barry--the crack-smoking former mayor of Washington, DC--Malik Zulu Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party, and Jamil Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. And adds: "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."

All of this is the polar opposite of the image Obama has projected to the world--except in one respect. Wright's main defense against criticism of his views was taken directly from Obama's March 18 speech on the subject of race in America. In this celebrated speech, Obama tried to make the Reverend Wright's views seem reasonable, to put him into an excusable "context"--and in doing so, he is the one who unleashed Wright.

At the National Press Club, Wright warned that criticism of him in the press "is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright; it is an attack on the black church." It might seem arrogant for Wright to assert that his own rantings are identical to the religious views of the black community as a whole--if Obama had not been the first one to make that comparison. The Reverend Wright, Obama said back in March, "contains within him the contradictions--the good and the bad--of the community that he has served diligently for so many years. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."

Wright's equation of himself with the "black church"--he goes on to explain that his own publicity-seeking "just might mean that the reality of the African-American church will no longer be invisible"--picks up on another theme straight out of Barack Obama's speech: excusing the reverend's wild exaggerations and emotionalist style as a widely accepted peculiarity of sermons in black churches. As Obama explained to us:

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.... But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

Here we see Obama's purpose in equating Wright to the "black community" as a whole: to criticize Wright, therefore, is to criticize blacks as such. It is inherently racist. According to Obama, if you are shocked that Reverend Wright would call on God to damn America, this merely exposes your callous indifference to the views and experiences of blacks in America. It makes you an example of the persistence of segregation--and if you express your views, you are responsible for "widening" racial conflict in America.

In short, it was Obama who tried to neutralize criticism of Wright by appealing to white racial guilt. Shelby Steele has memorably described "white guilt" as the presumption that whites are guilty of racism until they can prove otherwise, which they do by subjecting themselves to "diversity training," by embracing "affirmative action" racial preferences--or by patiently taking abuse from the likes of Jeremiah Wright, in order to show how understanding they are of black grievances.

The purpose of Obama's famous speech on race was to make Wright seem reasonable, understandable, even mainstream. The Obama campaign's hope, no doubt, was that this would make the Wright story go away. But Wright interpreted it as an invitation. If he's so understandable and mainstream, why not go on a media tour to explain himself to the world? And why not use Obama's own arguments to justify himself and browbeat his critics?

All of this is why it is no use for Obama to backpedal from his association with Reverend Wright, or to denounce him now, six weeks too late. It was Obama who sought to provide the Reverend Wright with immunity from criticism--and he can't complain when the reverend tries to take full advantage of that immunity.

This is the final collapse of the noble promise of the Obama campaign. The man who had once put himself forward as the candidate who would transcend racial politics once and for all has ended up legitimizing a Christian equivalent of Louis Farrakhan--and injecting him into the American political debate.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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