Friday, March 14, 2008

The Silly Season

Or: Here We Go Again.

It's the long campaign season. It's the intertubes. It's the divisive partisanship that's destroying the country. It's the technology, stupid. It's as American as cherry pie. Take your pick.

I refer, of course, to the sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which have set off a mini-storm of controversy because he doesn't mutter nice platitudes about how God wants you to be rich, white, and American. At least, that seems to be what's got everyone upset.

Taylor Marsh has the video, if you want to watch it. And while The Opinionater implies that Marsh thinks the attacks on Rev. Wright are unjust, she rightly points out that she darkly mutters otherwise. No surprise; she's an unrepentant supporter of Hillary Clinton, and this is the silly season. Her full comment is this:

For perspective, I certainly do not agree with everything my pastors have said on Sunday. I also know too many "cafeteria" Catholics, some in my own family, who pick and choose from the doctrines of their faith.

However, there is something about Reverend Wright that strikes me as not your average Sunday morning.
I'm assuming, of course, that "average Sunday morning" means something you'd hear from Joel Osteen, or Robert Schuller, or Pat Robertson, or the late Jerry Falwell, or maybe just in your Average White Church. For the record, here is a brief transcript of the Rev. Wright's remarks that Marsh excerpts (even though she takes them from Jeff Goldblatt):

“Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people,” Wright said. “Hillary would never know that.

“Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger. Hillary has never had a people defined as a non-person.”

In his Jan. 13 sermon, Wright said:

“Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain’t! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was riding dirty.” ...
She does leave out the "worst" one, which is Wright riffing off a litany of injustices against African Americans. ABC gives us that quote:

"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," he said in a 2003 sermon. "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."
On that one, let me say the only controversial assertion of fact there is the first clause: "The government gives them the drugs." It hearkens back to allegations that the CIA sold crack cocaine to African Americans in order to finance illicit operations in South America. Given the history of the School of the Americas; of the Tuskegee Institute; or Iran-Contra, I'm still not sure that allegation is such a flight of fancy. But it's the only factual statement in this quote that's even slightly disputable. 1 in 9 African-American males is in prison. America does treat its citizens as less than human, especially its poor citizens. And if America acts like she is God and she is supreme, then "God damn America" is not too harsh a judgment. It was even harsher when the prophets spoke to Israel:

Listen, you leaders of Jacob, rulers of Israel,
surely it is for you to know what is right,
and yet you hate good and love evil;
you flay the skin of my people
and tear the flesh from their bones.
They devour the flesh of my people,
strip off their skin,
lay bare their bones;
they cut them up like flesh for the pot,
like meat for the cauldron.--Micah 1: 1-3

For crime after crime of Israel
I shall grant them no reprieve,
because they sell honest folk for silver
and the poor for a pair of sandals.
They grind the heads of the helpless into the dust
and push the humble out of their way.

You loll on beds inlaid with ivory
and lounge on your couches;
you feast on lambs from the flock
and stall-fed calves;
you improvise on the lute
and like David invent musical instruments,
you drink wine by the bowlful
and anoint yourselves with the richest of oils;
but at the ruin of Joseph you feel no grief.
Now, therefore, you will head the column of exiles;
lounging and laughter will be at an end.
--Amos 2:6-7a; 6: 3-7
Now, of course, the language of the Hebrew prophets is not language calculated to win Presidential elections in America. That's where Taylor Marsh starts her dark mutterings. But again, I have to return to the Rev. Wright's remarks, as quoted by Marsh, and ask: where is he wrong? Has Hillary Clinton ever been called a nigger? Has she ever known what it was like to be a non-person in America? This kind of discussion quickly devolves into comparative suffering, and how mine is bigger or worse-r than yours, especially when the subjects are a black man and a white woman, so that's not a discussion I would invite. But then, I'm not a black man pastoring a large church, so my choice of topics might well be different. Factually, though, the Rev. Wright is absolutely, well....right.

As he is when he says this, which, interestingly, is not being picked up by everyone:

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.
Again, that's nothing the prophets didn't say before, during, and after the Exile:

Woe betide him who builds his palace on unfairness
and completes its roof-chambers with injustice,
compelling his countrymen to work without payment,
giving them no wage for their labour!
Woe to him who says,
'I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof-chambers and windows set in it;
it will be paneled with cedar
and painted with vermilion.'
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father; he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly; all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show that he knew me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain,
set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
on the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate.--Jeremiah 22:13-17
Indeed, what's interesting here is the idignance of whites about a black man saying these things in public, in a sermon. There are probably blacks, on blogs or in other public venues, denouncing the Rev. Wright's statements for the same reasons as Taylor Marsh, or reporting them as "problems" for Obama, as Brian Ross and Jeff Golblatt do. But Dan Abrams played these clips last night, too, and he, too, seemed quite upset. And it all reminded me of The Boondocks, when Granddad wakes Huey from his dream of telling the white people the truth. Huey finds himself in a suburban backyard at a garden party, and he "tells the assembled gathering":

Excuse me. Everyone, I have a brief announcement to make. Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9-11. Thank you for your time and good night.
This, of course, sends them into a blind panic, which Huey is enjoying until his Granddad tells Huey he was dreaming, and that Huey is never going to be allowed to tell white people the truth, because they can't handle it.

On the other hand, the problem with vision is not who has it, but how they have it. Huey, again:

Vision? What do you know about my vision? My vision would turn your world upside down, tear asunder your illusions, and send the sanctuary of your own ignorance crashing down around you. Now ask yourself, Are you ready to see that vision?
Huey, of course, is naive; and I would never accuse the Rev. Wright of such naivete. While Huey thinks his knowledge is too potent for whites, the Rev. Wright knows who he is speaking to, and understands the truth they understand. I don't think Jeremiah Wright is naive at all. But it's also clear that "white" America is still not ready to see the country that "black" America sees. On the other hand, as Media Matters notes, this has been reported on: in April, 2007. And what Obama thinks, and what the Rev. Wright thinks, can be two different things.

However, this is the silly season.

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