Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nobody's Wright, if everybody's wrong

"Young people speakin' their mind/Gettin' so much resistance from behind..."

There. I succumbed to a Wright pun. I'm so done with this topic I never want to hear about it again. Last one; I swear. Really. I can quit anytime I want to. I just don't want to yet.

So I'm looking at this, by Eric Boehlert:

Here's another first: the press's unique push to get a competitive White House hopeful to drop out of the race. It's unprecedented.
And I'm thinking: what about the other "first"? Since when did the media get to decide who a candidate's pastor should be, and what that pastor should say? Because there's really no question the media did a hatchet job on Rev. Wright, chopping up his statements and playing selected bits and pieces of them over and over again, always refusing to respond to the truth and responding, instead, to what they said he said.

Of course, the sinister and unspoken notion here is that pastors tell their members what to think. Interestingly enough, NPR found people in North Carolina who can respect a pastor without agreeing with all of his ideas, a thing apparently unpossible among our pundit class, for whom the thought and the personality are one. Unless, of course, you are Pat Buchanan. But while paid pundits are no reflection on their employer when they make blatantly racist statements (where is the gratitude, Pat?), pastors clearly reflect precisely what their members think, else why go to that church?

Does anybody else see a really demented, self-centered, and consumerist mentality disguised as ecclesiology, in that assumption? Not that there aren't plenty of people who pick the church they attend on precisely that basis, but the irony, again, is that Rev. Wright pastors a UCC church, a congregationalist denomination which places great emphasis on the conscience of the individual, and individual responsibility for one's spiritual life. So while the UCC all but champions attending a congregation where you feel comfortable with what is preached, that freedom of conscience is also precisely why Obama could be a member of that church, without agreeing with everything the Pastor said.

Too bad Obama didn't want to explain that. Or maybe he was just more worried about the kind of conversation res ipsa loquitur imagines. Maybe he decided the medium is the message, not the message itself, and he'd rather play their game than be a different kind of politician. Did Obama have a choice? Yes, he did. He could have done something besides throw Wright "under the bus." This wasn't Obama's "Sister Souljah" moment. It was closer to Clinton's Lani Guinier moment. Closer than that, actually, considering Obama famously said "I could no more disown this man than I could disown the black community."

So now who has he disowned?

Political expediency is all; even for a non-political politician.

This New York Times article buttresses my point, that this wasn't about Wright's jealousy of Obama. When Obama made his famous "race speech":

Mr. Wright was on a long-planned cruise... he returned to find his name a term of opprobrium all across the nation. Mr. Obama and his advisers decline to say if they attempted a reconciliation. Mr. Obama himself has acknowledged talking with Mr. Wright after the Philadelphia speech, and people close to both men tried to caution the pastor to remain silent.

Mr. Wright, however, wanted only to explain himself.
And that went well, so long as he was "scholarly" and quiet. (Or so the Times article says; many of us, however, recall the screams of outrage when a 30 second excerpt from the Moyers' interview was available before that interview aired. No matter what Rev. Wright said, the pundits were determined to hew to their narrative that he was dangerous for Obama.) But it was his answers to questions at the National Press Club that apparently upset everyone. Which brings this back to an earlier topic, about a generational divide. All of the "serious" pundits were quite sure Rev. Wright was terribly "unserious." But all those pundits are, or at least appear to be, my age or older. It was the unserious Jon Stewart who admired Wright's attitude; and it was also Jon Stewart who pointed out this issue is not only racial, it's also about the media's obsession:

And that obsession has made the narrative they've crafted inconsistent in ways that can only be understood as matters of style, and race:

This may be, as the New York Times article paints it, merely Obama's Oedipal moment, his need to kill his "father" in order to reject the father's influence and be his own man. It may have started that way (as the article points out, this didn't begin with YouTube), but it's gone far beyond that now, and the news coverage that led to that race speech was not concerned with Obama's psychic well-being. It has become simply another political weapon wielded by people with their own agendas and inconsistencies. As Stephen Colbert pointed out last night, Catholics like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly understand that the church you attend is a matter of choice, and when you attend church, you are agreeing with everything the priest or pastor not only says, but does.

Aren't you?

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