May 4, 2008

A clear understanding of the Rev. Wright issue. Those stuck on stupid avert your eyes.

(Warning to Mowen. This piece has lots of words and contains rational thought. Leave now or you'll hurt yourself.)

Many of you have asked for some rational explanation for Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s transition from reasonable conversation to shocking anger at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly. But I’m not a psychologist.

Many black preachers I’ve known, scholarly, smart, and gentle in person, uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course, I’ve known many white preachers like that too. But where I grew up in the south before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else. A safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, and justice delayed.

I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hold of a slave ship, and sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched.

Of if my great-great grandfather had been but 3/5th of a person in a constitution that proclaimed, “We, the people”.

Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and Jesse Helms.

Even so, the anger of black preachers I’ve known and heard about and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic. That’s not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances this week.

What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle – forgetting that black Americans have fought and died beside them and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy.

Hardly anyone took the “chickens come home to roost” remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9-11, but to understand that actions have consequences.

My friend Bernard Weisberger the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright’s absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing they were being treated, while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test.

Does this excuse Wright’s anger, his exaggerations or distortions? You’ll have to decide for yourself. At least it helps me to understand the “why” of it.

But in this multi-media age, the pulpit isn’t only available on Sunday mornings. There’s ‘round-the-clock media, the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the “fast food” with emotional content.

So the preacher starts with rational discussion, and after much prodding, throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches.

He had help. People who for their own reasons, set out to conflate the man in the pulpit, who wasn’t running for president, with the man in the pew, who was.

Behold, the double-standard.

John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering, Catholic-bashing Texas preacher, who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins.

But no one suggests John McCain shares Hagee’s delusions, or thinks AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality.

Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state, and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right.

After 9-11, Jerry Falwell said the attack was God’s judgment on America for having been driven out our schools and the public square.

But when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an “agent of intolerance”, the press gives him a pass.

John Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the Oval Office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are, “undermining America”.

This is crazy.

And wrong.

White preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren’t. Which means it is all about race, isn’t it. Wright’s offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently.

He doesn’t fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone’s neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school.

What he does is speak his mind in a language and style that unsettles some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship.

Politics often exposes us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction. But I’ve never seen anything like this.

This wrenching break between pastor and parishioner – both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves.

All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all, and prevents an honest conversation on race.

It is the price we area paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt who said, “Beware, the terrible simplifiers.”


-- Bill Moyers
"Bill Moyer's Journal" May 2, 2008


At 5/03/2008 12:05 PM, Anonymous said...

Aside from the food fight nature of how this is playing in the political press, isn't this more about age than race? Obama wants to solve the problems of the black community as a part of the larger society, while Rev. Wright wants to solve them in a separatist way.

Seeing some of the bad effects that desegregation had on black owned businesses, it seems reasonable that an older man who had experienced desegregation would have a somewhat different world view than a younger man.

Still, it is difficult to see a friendship disintegrate in the crucible of presidential politics.

At 5/03/2008 8:55 PM, Blogger Saul said...

Wright has never criticized desegregation. He is not a black separatist. Please provide one bit of evidence to back up your claim that he is a separatist.

At 5/06/2008 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saul is correct in asking the question. The problem is that media interviewers such as Tim Russett and Chris Matthews cannot get over the "fact" that "working class whites" are voting for Clinton.
They do not seem to have met any working class whites who have voted for Obama in the past and continue to do so. Even in Indiana --a state with 89% whites--Obama received white votes and he did in North Carolina. But we never seem to hear any interviewer asking these white voters why they voted for Obama. Perhaps it is because they are focused on their "facts." The main reason seems to be that these interviewers ( racists and hate groups) only see this election now as being a black and white issue. This was evident in the last debate and in recent interviews ( more time on Wright and now Ayers) that focus on the issue of race increasingly.

At 5/08/2008 9:24 AM, Anonymous tiger woods said...

Wright is Wright.
Who cares?

He said some really stupid things.
Why he said them is meaningless.

He said some things that are very much anti-United States.
Why he said them is meaningless.

Obama was in this church by his own free will - and remained in this church by his own free will.

Oprah was smart enough to leave the church and Wright - Obama was not.

The 527's will have a field day with this and the voters will decide.

Persoanlly, I believe that when the 527's get on this issue and Obama's wife not being proud of the United States (until her husband was running for POTUS) - Obama will have serious issues in November.

But that is just me.

At 5/08/2008 9:48 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Yep, Mowen, that's just you.

And with your track record, I wouldn't put any money on it.

The Wright story will be done to death by then and a total snooze. Do you really think that the entire country hasn't heard it all at least a dozen times already?

It sure didn't put much of a dent in Obama's support.

And your point that most voters are ignorant lunk-heads is taken.

But I do believe that a lot of people actually do care why Wright said what he did and care to try to understand it rather than launching into the typical knee-jerk reactions the right tries to promote and inflame.


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