The Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been Barack Obama’s pastor for 20 years. The Reverend Dr. Wright presided over Barack Obama’s marriage to Michelle. The Reverend Dr. even suggested the title of Obama’s bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope. Oprah Winfrey, celebrated talk show host whose support and , is a fellow congregant. To say that Senator Barack Obama has ties with Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ is classic understatement.
It may have also now become a political liability for the junior senator from Illinois. With Fox News and ABC News leading the way, presenting soundbites and reporting on Wright’s controversial sermons, the blogosphere is close behind, speculating and analyzing Senator Obama’s connections to the Reverend and his Church.
Conservative pundits and bloggers seem to smell blood in the political waters…
Back in 2003, the Reverend Dr. Wright presented a sermon (reviewed by ABC News) to his congregation that is being called the “God Damn America” sermon, wherein Wright tells his audience that: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’. No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”
Fox News reviewed a sermon Wright gave in January, where he compared Barack Obama’s life in the U.S. to Jesus’ struggle against the Romans.
The Reverend Wright squared off with talk show host Sean Hannity on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes”on March 7. Wright comes off as bellicose at times and defensive at others. Hannity, who is nothing short of a jingoistic reactionary, is totally eliminated from the conversation and Alan Colmes gets Wright to state his position, which seems to be one of independence and pride. In another video, shown on Youtube.com, Hannity speaks to Erik Rush, a black columnist, who calls Wright’s words separatist and racist, bordering on frightening. Rush even questions Barack Obama’s Christianity.
But that is only two interviews. Wright is not coming off well in most articles. He is being excoriated by pundits and bloggers on all sides of the political spectrum. With comments such as the United States bringing on the 9/11 attacks, that the United States is inherently racist, that modern Israel is toward the Palestinians as the government of South Africa was toward blacks during apartheid, Wright is likely not to gain many allies.
And how will this affect the Obama campaign? Will the rising storm of indignation and outrage sweep over Barack Obama and destroy his chances of being elected? Or will the heretofore calm and collected candidate weather this storm with aplomb and simply push on?
For his part, Senator Obama has already distanced himself from Reverend Wright, likening the controversial pastor to an uncle that sometimes says things that are embarrassing. The Obama camp has also issued a statement further distancing the senator from Wright’s extreme views and the supporters of Wright.
But in a race that has become increasingly polarized by racial tension — as witness the CNN exit polls in Mississippi that showed 92% of the black vote went to Obama and 70% of the white vote went to Senator Hillary Clinton — the last thing Obama and his supporters wanted to see was something divisive. And although the Obama camp has been quick to point the finger at the Clinton campaign for fanning these racial flames, especially since the conflagration started over former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s recent remarks, this story has actually been circulating through Chicago and in the conservative media forums for about a year. But Roland Martin, a CNN political analyst, told Anderson Cooper that the story has really caught fire because of Sean Hannity’s repeated mentioning and airing of it.
Coming as it does at a pivotal time in the Democratic candidate race, being associated with such controversial, seemingly anti-American rhetoric and demagoguery could effectively stop the Obama campaign in its tracks. The potential for backlash across racial lines — by whites that are appalled at the Reverend’s words, by blacks that refuse to be associated with or do not wish to be associated with Wright’s views, by average Americans simply outraged that another American could voice such opinions — is immense. That the Obama camp could be tainted enough to lose the general election, even though they might win the Democratic nomination, is also worrisome. It is definitely something they must attempt to avert.
Given that a central theme in Obama’s campaign is unity, Wright’s words and whether or not the senator is perceived by the voting electorate to heed those words could become very difficult to explain away.
But should Obama be held accountable for the sermons of the pastor of the church he attends? Does his attendance and affiliation mean that he somehow, even tacitly, accepts the views of the pastor? Of course not. But that will not stop Obama’s opponents from trying to make some of this controversy stick to the senator, especially pundits like Sean Hannity, who knows that guilt by association is a very effective weapon.
And if any of it does stick, this race, which has already seen some nasty mudslinging, could get a lot nastier. The strangest outcome of this could be that, while Senator Obama defends himself against allegations and accusations regarding Reverend Wright, Senator Clinton and her supporters won’t even have to get their hands dirty.
Suzanne Goldenberg, “Obama faces potential damage from his pastor’s comments,” Guardian.co.uk
“Obama’s Pastor: Rev. Jeremiah Wright,” FoxNews.com
“Anderson Cooper 360,” CNN Television
“Election Center 2008: Primaries and Caucuses,” CNNPolitics.com
ABC News Television
“Barack’s Trinity Church, (Part 1 of 2),” Youtube.com
“Barack’s Trinity Church, (Part 2 of 2),” Youtube.com