Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama and Wright and Wrong



From Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe:
I have known my rabbi for more than 20 years. The synagogue he serves as spiritual leader is one I have attended for a quarter-century. He officiated at my wedding and was present for the circumcision of each of my sons. Over the years, I have sought his advice on matters private and public, religious and secular. I have heard him speak from the pulpit more times than I can remember.

My relationship with my rabbi, in other words, is similar in many respects to Barack Obama’s relationship with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But if my rabbi began delivering sermons as toxic, hate-filled, and anti-American as the diatribes Wright has preached at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, I wouldn’t hesitate to demand that he be dismissed.

Were my rabbi to gloat that America got its just desserts on 9/11, or to claim that the US government invented AIDS as an instrument of genocide, or to urge his congregants to sing “God Damn America” instead of “God Bless America,” I would know about it straightaway, even if I hadn’t actually been in the sanctuary when he spoke. The news would spread rapidly through the congregation, and in short order one of two things would happen: Either the rabbi would be gone, or I and scores of others would walk out, unwilling to remain in a house of worship that tolerated such poisonous teachings. I have no doubt that the same would be true for millions of worshipers in countless houses of worship nationwide.

But it wasn’t true for Obama, whose long and admiring relationship with Wright, a man he describes as his “mentor,” remained intact for more than 20 years, notwithstanding the incendiary and bigoted messages the minister used his pulpit to promote.

In Philadelphia . . . Obama gave a graceful speech on the theme of race and unity in American life. Much of what he said was eloquent and stirring, not least his opening paean to the Founders and the Constitution -- a document “stained by the nation’s original sin of slavery,” as he said, yet also one “that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.” There was an echo there of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who in his great “I Have a Dream” speech extolled “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” as “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

The problem for Obama is that Wright, the spiritual leader he has so long embraced, is a devotee not of King -- who in that same speech warned against “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred” -- but of the poisonous hatemonger Louis Farrakhan, whom the church’s magazine honored with a lifetime achievement award. The problem for Obama, who campaigns on a message of racial reconciliation, is that the “mentor” whose church he joined and has generously supported with tens of thousands of dollars in donations is a disciple not of King but of James Cone, the expounder of a “black liberation” theology that teaches its adherents to “accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.”

Above all, the problem for Obama is that for two decades his spiritual home has been a church in which the minister damns America to the enthusiastic approval of the congregation, and not until it threatened to scuttle his political ambitions did Obama finally find the mettle to condemn the minister’s odium.

When Don Imus uttered his infamous slur on the radio last year, Obama cut him no slack. Imus should be fired, he said. “There’s nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group.”

When it came to Wright, however, he wasn’t nearly so categorical. Oh, he’s “like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with,” Obama indulgently explained to one interviewer. He’s just “trying to be provocative,” he told another. “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial,” he said. Far from severing his ties to Wright, Obama made him a member of his Religious Leadership Committee -- a tie he finally cut only four days ago.

Such a clanging double standard raises doubts about Obama’s character and judgment, and about his fitness for the role of race-transcending healer. Yesterday’s speech was finely crafted, but it leaves some serious and troubling questions unanswered.

12 Comments:

Anonymous randilus nimbus said...

Isn't it some sort of blog etiquette not to cut and past entire pieces of another's work? You do that a lot, it seems. Just sayin'....

11:37 PM  
Anonymous joe stalin said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed the left trying desperately to rationalize this.
They've rationalized that Obama didn't endorse what Wright said.
They've tried the "Obama wasn't there when..." angle.
They've tried the "you just don't understand black church's" angle.
Some have tried to justify and validate Wright's words as harsh but true.
Jacoby nails it. There would be no excuses allowed for a white person saying these kinds of things.
The attempt at rationalization and justification for Wright and Obama's tacit approval of Wrights words and attitudes is just proof of what liberals truly are.
Sanctimonious hypocrites.
Sorry libs, the chickens have come home to roost.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Mandarin said...

While I hail from the left and am thus automatically a sancimonious hypocrite (I kinda like the ring to that!), I'm interested to know what conservatives think a "real" conversation about race in this country would entail? Or is it even *needed* in your folks opinions! I would like to think we can at least agree on the fact that racism is still a problem in the U.S., but who knows...

ANYWHO, assuming that ya'll think a real conversation on race needs to be had, what would that discussion sound like? Would it be surface-y and along the lines of "there's a double standard with what is acceptable language to blacks, but not whites, and that is just not fair (white's can't say the n-word!) *pout and wave fist angrily*," or would it be something like "I'm colorblind-I just don't *seeeee* race."

Stuff like that is what I imagine coming from the right wing. If any rightists would care to share their opinion on what a serious conversation on race would look like, please let me know. I am very interested to know.

3:58 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Mandarin said...

Well, Mandarin, the problem is that liberals would hate, and would try to shout down a real conservation on race.

Liberals would insist that blacks bear no responsibility for their state, and whites have to feel guilty and spend billions and billions of dollars on programs that have been tried and found not to work.

A real conversation would address the things that really hold black people back, and those aren't "white racism" (except for the condescending "excuse everything" attitudes of white liberals).

A real conversation would involve addressing that 2/3 of black babies are born out of wedlock.

I don't know whether you know the statistics, but being born out of wedlock is far and away the worst thing that can happen to the life chances of a black child.

An honest conversation would involve discussing crime in the black community. It would not assert that black incarceration is the result of racist police picking on whites. It would accept the fact that blacks commmit violent crimes at about 7-8 times the rate of whites. It would also understand that it's weird when white liberals and black race hustlers side with the black criminal, instead of the (proportionally overwhelmingly black) victims.

An honest conversation would not put the morals and ethics of the Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons off limits -- anymore than it would put the morals and ethics of any white political activist off-limits.

So what's the problem here? Liberals would lose the debate, and thus don't want the sort of "honest conversation" they would lose.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous mrslovett said...

Whoa, Dr McAdams: I think Mandarin was looking for a "conversation", a discussion, a dialogue, something in which all sorts of people from all sorts of experiences relayed their thoughts and feelings. By the end of your post, you made this discussion into a "debate" that liberals would lose. Who, exactly, is the debate between? Those who think racism exists and those who think it doesn't? It doesn't seem particularly useful to take up sides in this conversation. I'm pretty sure that's what Sen. Obama's position has been, actually.

Question also about your "being born out of wedlock is...the worst thing that can happen to the life chances of a black child". Are there studies substantiating this claim? Maybe there are studies showing that children of color are more likely to grow up in poverty, or in single-parent homes, but that's not what you are saying here.

Perhaps the factors that increase the likelihood of being born to a single-parent home (like lack of access to sexual health resources) are also more likely to show up in lower-income houses, which may be more likely to impact people of color.

What I'm trying to show with this example is that a conversation on race can't be a competition. It's not a forum to determine, for example, that either institutional racism impacts imprisonment rates or it doesn't. It does, and so do other factors. You can spin out studies all you want but cannot use them to unequivocally isolate a single factor that leads to various outcomes. Besides being terrible science, it's not helpful to our country or our world in moving past a history painfully scarred with racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and more.

10:52 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

mrslovett said...

I'm afraid you have made my point for me.

You demand that your politically correct viewpoint be taken as given ("institutionalized racism" causes disproportionate incarceraton of blacks).

But an honest "conversation" would not take that as given.

An honest conversation would admit that the sexual choices that blacks make have nasty consequences for the life chances of black children.

Given that the only "conversation" that you are willing to engage in is one stacked to promote your point of view, the whole idea doesn't work.

You liberals are saying "lets have a conversation," when what you mean is "let's blame whitey, and spend billions more on the social programs that we liberals like."

Sorry, that's not any real conversation.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Mandarin said...

John McAdams, you said:

“Liberals would insist that blacks bear no responsibility for their state, and whites have to feel guilty and spend billions and billions of dollars on programs that have been tried and found not to work.”

I would have to disagree with that rather blanketed and inane statement, but I’ll entertain it. Here’s my idea: human agency is crucial to any being’s life, but at the same time, I do not think it trumps societal limitations. This isn’t an either/or situation (either complete agency or no moral responsibility at all). I think we all have to realize that philosophical distinction. See, everyone bears a responsibility to his or her own self but at the same time, we also have a responsibility to each other. (I think Jesus’s teachings might fit in here…) Also, think about the idea that “we are a self in a world of selves” (I think that’s Meade). No human is an agent to the extent that they can do and achieve whatever they would like. There are societal limitations—on the grand scale, these tend to fall under the headings of race, sex, class, etc. We’ve got to acknowledge our history here! Not more than 50 years ago there were blatantly racist laws on the books, and you think that is not going to have at least *some* impact today? We haven’t even escaped our de jure racism by a generation. So, on the whole, it’s silly to say that a human being has no responsibility for their state. But it is also just as ridiculous to assume an individual has complete agency in living their life and making decisions. We all exist in the tension between these two poles. I really wish you could at least bring that understanding to a serious conversation on race.

To address your second part of this statement, do you feel guilty for being white? I’m guessing no. It’s hilarious that you appear threatened by what you think is a forced feeling of guilt on whites. It’s quite impossible to *make* someone feel guilty. I don’t know how that would work. Guilt seems pretty subjective. But anyways, I much prefer “white responsibility.” Guilt is passive. Responsibility is active. We are ALL responsible for making and upholding our social and political structure. Rich people are able to be named "rich" because others are "poor." We exist in relation to each other and thus are all responsible for how those relations are shaped. Social programs that you complain about spending your money on are an active response. While they may not all be perfect, they are directed efforts and I support those. We’ll disagree on that I guess.

You know, I was going to continue responding to what you had to say, but it’s just so hard for me to engage with what you have to say. I think mrslovett summed up my position and had a great point on the fact that your “conversation” reduces to a constant chirp of “I’m right and you’re wrong. That’s the way it is. Just accept it.” I don’t want that. Sorry. I want a complex discussion on race and racism. I want to change my mind multiple times and not come to any firm conclusions before I exhaust multiple channels of thought. I would hope that others I talk to would feel the same way. You on the other hand, well, I’ve been reading this blog for a while and have never seen you concede another’s point or change your thought process at all when engaging in conversations with commenters. Dr. McAdams, If you haven’t changed your mind recently, how do you know you still have one!? Sometimes I think yours is lost and gone forever. But then I come back to realizing we are all human beings and thus capable of rational thought, so I comment here in some hopes of dialogue that truly attempts to reach at the heart of the matter. (I’m still crossing my fingers for that one).

I do have a few more pretty point blank questions for you. Do you think racism still exists? What is your concept of race? (i.e. what does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be white?) When you say “It would accept the fact that blacks commit violence crimes at about 7-8 times the rate of whites” are you asserting that blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites? Is the black individual that grows up in the suburbs and is surrounded by “white culture” more likely to commit a crime than a white person who grows up poor and in lower class living conditions? This is only asked for you to ponder the complexities of this “race issue.” It’s a mess of complexities and we’re not going to solve any of it by making blanketed statements and generalizations without qualifications like I often see you doing.

Believe me, I have friends who are conservatives and generally disagree with me politically, but we are able to talk with each other in a reasonable manner on issues that affect our very humanity, such as this one, and I respect them for that, despite the fact that I disagree deeply with what some of their conclusions. There’s certain tact to expressing one’s thoughts. This type of critical approach can be respected even if another’s thoughts themselves are disagreed with. I find myself not being able to respect you because your statements often oversimplify issues and generalize like crazy. Sometimes I feel like you’re one step shy of asserting that blacks *deserve* to be in a crappy state. Whether that sentiment is true or not for you, that is the aura you give off, which is why I have trouble engaging in any meaningful conversation with you, it seems. Overall, like mrslovett said, this isn’t a debate where we split into sides and try to prove the other wrong. Where would that lead us?

9:37 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Mandarin said...

In spite of your sanctimonious claim of open-mindedness, it's clear that you are the kind of liberal I was talking about.

Let's be specific.

do you feel guilty for being white? I’m guessing no. It’s hilarious that you appear threatened by what you think is a forced feeling of guilt on whites.

Of course neither I nor virtually any whites feel guilty. The "guilty white liberals" don't really feel guilty. They feel self-righteous.

But that's why the "conservation" won't work. The liberals demand that whites must feel guilty about things they had no part in (slavery, segregation). Liberals are simply going to have to drop that demand for any sensible "conversation" to take place.

Guilt is passive. Responsibility is active. We are ALL responsible for making and upholding our social and political structure.

This is fine if you'll agree that blacks are responsible for things that are under their control.

I want to change my mind multiple times and not come to any firm conclusions before I exhaust multiple channels of thought.

You claim this, and maybe it's true of you, but it's not true of liberals generally. It's all white racism, and if you disagree with any of their policy prescriptions, you are a racist.

Frankly, I'm skeptical that you would ever change you mind, although it's a nice rhetorical pose.

Do you think racism still exists?

Most certainly, but the kinds most damaging to blacks are not the kind you have in mind. The damaging kinds are white liberal racism, that refuses to hold blacks responsible for reckless and immoral behavior (it's always whitey's fault), and black racism of the sort that we have seen from Jeremiah Wright.

When you say “It would accept the fact that blacks commit violence crimes at about 7-8 times the rate of whites” are you asserting that blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites?

Of course! That's exactly what I said. If you deny that, you are denying an obvious fact, and if you won't admit obvious truths because they are somehow politically incorrect, no honest "conversation" is possible.

Is the black individual that grows up in the suburbs and is surrounded by “white culture” more likely to commit a crime than a white person who grows up poor and in lower class living conditions?

This is a rather convoluted question, but crime is overwhelmingly cultural. The black inner city is extremely perverse in this sense. In other times white inner city neighborhoods were poor, and a culture supporting crime existed there. And of course the crime rates were very high.

Conversely, if you look at crime rates among blacks in rural areas in the 1950s, those rates were miniscule.

But what's your point?

This is only asked for you to ponder the complexities of this “race issue.” It’s a mess of complexities and we’re not going to solve any of it by making blanketed statements and generalizations without qualifications like I often see you doing.

Frankly, I think your rhetorical strategy is to fuzz up facts that you find inconvenient.

You are happy to make blanket statements yourself when it serves your purposes.

I find myself not being able to respect you because your statements often oversimplify issues and generalize like crazy.

The lack of respect is mutual.

You are happy to simplify isssues and generalize like crazy when it serves your rhetorical purposes. You want to simpilify everything to the evils of white racism, slavery and segregation.

I'm the one saying it's vastly more complicated.

Sometimes I feel like you’re one step shy of asserting that blacks *deserve* to be in a crappy state.

See?

Somebody like me disagrees with you, and you start talking about how they have evil motives.

Your sanctimonious rhetoric can't change the fact that you are a liberal who will quickly impute evil motives to people who disagree with you.

You will try to fuzz issues that you find uncomfortable (black crime, illegitimacy).

You have, without realizing it, made my point for me.

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Mandarin said...

Let’s clear some things up. I am left-leaning and do not “demand” that whites feel guilty and I have heard of no rhetoric that DEMANDS white guilt. I have heard of whites who express their guilt but no one lecturing on how whites MUST feel guilty. Guilt is silly and quite a waste; as I said, guilt equates to passivity and inaction in my mind. Thus, I prefer thinking of society’s collective responsibility to tackle the ills that plague our nation. Key word: responsibility. Key problem for you is that you think you are in no way responsible for the society you live in. And the society we live in is racist. You like to point fingers and place blame on certain sects of society without realizing that you exist in relation to these groups of people and that you are in the position you are in because they are in the position they are in.

“This is a rather convoluted question, but crime is overwhelmingly cultural. The black inner city is extremely perverse in this sense. In other times white inner city neighborhoods were poor, and a culture supporting crime existed there. And of course the crime rates were very high.

Conversely, if you look at crime rates among blacks in rural areas in the 1950s, those rates were miniscule.

But what's your point?”

It is NOT an obvious truth that blacks are more likely than whites to commit crime. My example eluded to the reason why. The black kid that grows up in suburban “white culture” is not more likely to commit crime than the white kid who grows up impoverished and in an urban area. I resent the fact that you think my black friends who grew up in comfortable living situations in suburbia are more likely to commit crime than whites, just because they are black. How more blatantly inaccurate can you get? The statement that blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites is inane because that is simply not the case. I can see how you might jump to a conclusion like the one you did, but to be critical means to really look at the entire system that is at work here. You must qualify your statements because simply having dark skin does not make you more prone to crime. That is what you are saying. And that is why you sound like a racist jerk, in my opinion. I can help you fix that though. We’ll begin with baby steps. What might help your claim is to instead say that “blacks who live in x, y, and z social and economic situations are more likely to commit crimes than whites who live in x,y, and z economic and social conditions.” That can be the beginning of a real conversation on race…which will inevitably bring up class, and gender, etc, etc. This issues are interconnected, John. The most obvious intersection is race and class, but your blanket statement that blacks are more likely to commit crime does not take economic factors into consideration.

“You are happy to simplify isssues and generalize like crazy when it serves your rhetorical purposes. You want to simpilify everything to the evils of white racism, slavery and segregation.”

I cannot recall ever simplifying everything to the evils of white racism, slavery and segregation. While of course these issues must be taken into account when we are reflecting on a history that has now gotten us to our current place, no analysis can every be reduced to such things. However, in your analysis, you completely ignore these things--as if you think slavery and segregation has no impact on the social, economic, and political situations of black Americans these days. Your denial of history shaping our current situation is astounding, especially for a professor in the social sciences!

“See?

Somebody like me disagrees with you, and you start talking about how they have evil motives.

Your sanctimonious rhetoric can't change the fact that you are a liberal who will quickly impute evil motives to people who disagree with you.”

You sound like a kid on the playground that just got their lunch money stolen (probably by a black person). Anyways, what I said was that in your rhetoric, I get the FEELING that you are one step shy of asserting that blacks deserve to be in a crappy state. Then I went on to say that maybe that is not what you actually think, but that is what you are conveying to me and countless others. And what you are conveying is more important sometimes than what you yourself think you mean.

Also, I do not impute evil motives to people who disagree with me. When you disagree with me, I simply feel a bit let down by humanity and the state of our education system (I can’t believe you are a professor, sometimes!). Then I try to remain calm but inevitably become angry at society and the socialization you have received. If anything, I impute harmful socialization of people who I disagree with on these issues.

“You have, without realizing it, made my point for me.”

I would like once for you to make a substantiated point YOURSELF.

Okay, I’ll end on a good note. We do agree on one thing! We both do not respect each other. Yay!

1:15 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Mandarin said...

I am left-leaning and do not “demand” that whites feel guilty and I have heard of no rhetoric that DEMANDS white guilt.

. . . and then:

Key problem for you is that you think you are in no way responsible for the society you live in. And the society we live in is racist.

You don't see the contradiction, do you?

But what you said is nonsense, and as long as you blame "white racism" for all racial problems, no "conversation" about race can be productive.

Then I try to remain calm but inevitably become angry at society and the socialization you have received. If anything, I impute harmful socialization of people who I disagree with on these issues.

Again, you keep making my point. You become angry when people disagree with you.

That's what a lot of politically correct liberals do, and so long as they do that, no productive dialogue is possible.

I get the FEELING that you are one step shy of asserting that blacks deserve to be in a crappy state. Then I went on to say that maybe that is not what you actually think, but that is what you are conveying to me and countless others.

Translation: if I find somebody disagreeing with me on these issues, I'll think they are racist.

But let me explain quite clearly: A lot of blacks do deserve the state they are in. If a 15 year old girl has sex and has a baby, she has gotten herself into a pickle.

The unfairness here, of course, is to the kid who will be born into a family with no father.

Black criminals in prison (with virtually no exceptions) deserve to be there.

The real injustice is to the victims, and those are mostly black.

I resent the fact that you think my black friends who grew up in comfortable living situations in suburbia are more likely to commit crime than whites, just because they are black.

See? I said no such thing, but you are looking for a racial grievance.

However, in your analysis, you completely ignore these things--as if you think slavery and segregation has no impact on the social, economic, and political situations of black Americans these days. Your denial of history shaping our current situation is astounding, especially for a professor in the social sciences!

See?

Instead of discussing issues, you want to prate about the evils of American society.

The problem is that such rhetoric is no part of any solution to any problem.

How does any of this rhetoric about slavery and segregation help with any discrete problem?

How does it help educate black kids?

How does it help make black neighborhoods safer?

And does it give black kids a father?

You don't want to discuss any of these issues, and until people like you do, there will be no useful "conversation about race."

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Mandarin said...

I feel like I'm in a battle with my brother on who gets the last word. I often win because silence can be a "word" too. See, as you often state, "you keep making my point" for me, Dr. M! I'll just leave it at that....with ONE concession. I just HAVE to respond to this one.

In your most recent comment you quoted me saying: "I resent the fact that you think my black friends who grew up in comfortable living situations in suburbia are more likely to commit crime than whites, just because they are black."

You responded: "See? I said no such thing, but you are looking for a racial grievance."

But you DID say that very thing, John! Recall this earlier exchange:

I questioned: "Are you asserting that blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites?"

You said: "Of course! That's exactly what I said. If you deny that, you are denying an obvious fact, and if you won't admit obvious truths because they are somehow politically incorrect, no honest "conversation" is possible."

Therefore, the few black people I knew that went to my upper-middle class suburban high school, according to your logic, are more likely to commit crime than whites. If your statement is not racist, I don't know what is. You are reducing crime to the color of one's skin, simple as that. You do not investigate other contributing factors. (Bear in mind, I am focusing SOLELY on the statement of yours that reads "Blacks are more likely to commit crime than whites.") You are asserting that blacks are predisposed to commit crimes. If you do not mean to say this, you need to shape up your rhetoric. However, if you DO believe this, I wish you would just COME OUT AND SAY IT.

Done. Bag it. Sayonara, man.

11:27 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Mandarin said...

Therefore, the few black people I knew that went to my upper-middle class suburban high school, according to your logic, are more likely to commit crime than whites. If your statement is not racist, I don't know what is. You are reducing crime to the color of one's skin, simple as that.

In the first place, you are happy to reduce all issues "to the color of one's skin" when it serves your purposes.

In the second place, it's a simple fact that blacks are about 7-8 times more likely to commit a crime than whites.

So it's no surprise that blacks are must more likely to be incarcerated than whites.

I tried to explain to you that crime is heavily cultural, and that the culture of the inner city is particularly perverse from this standpoint.

But you don't want to listen. You want a racial grievance.

I told you that crime rates among blacks in rural areas in the 50s were miniscule, precisely for the reason that crime is cultural. You ignore that.

There cannot be an honest conversation if you deny the truth of black crime. I know it's politically inconvenient for you to admit the truth, but we can't have an honest conversation unless you will do that.

4:17 PM  

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