Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nice speech. Too bad he didn't deliver it years ago, from Pastor Wright's pulpit

It's too early to know what impact Obama's speech will have on his campaign to win the Democratic nomination, or, if he's successful, his bid to win the White House.

But one thing's for sure. Obama has certainly squeezed every last ounce of usefulness out of Pastor Jeremiah Wright. For years he used Wright and Trinity Church to cement his position in the world of Chicago faith-politics, and now that the pastor's extensive canon of race-baiting and hate-preaching has come to light he's used him one last time – and to spectacular effect.

Glenn Greenwald found the speech 'riveting, provocative, insightful, thoughtful and courageous'; Chris Matthews doubtless had another of those thrills run up his leg. Andrew Sullivan was cool and objective as ever. Temporarily, at least, the speech seems to have had the desired effect, although if he wins the candidacy Obama may have to make another speech renouncing all the socialist rhetoric he employed in the latter part of yesterday's.

Cynical though I am about pretty much every aspect of Obama's campaign, I can't believe that, as Obama and his family sat and listened while Wright regaled his flock with a litany of America's sins (after insisting that he had never heard any 'controversial' remarks by Wright, he backtracked in the speech), Obama thought he would one day be able use the pastor's indiscretions to his own advantage.

But he clearly didn't worry that they would do him any harm either, otherwise he would have found another church, or perhaps had a quiet word in the ear of his mentor. Maybe he could even have stood in Wright's own pulpit, and told the worshippers of Trinity that it was time to move beyond such divisive language, and begin the process of reconciliation.

Perhaps he dismissed the pastor's revelling in the deaths of 3,00o Americans on 9/11, his blaming Israel for all the Middle East's ills and his accusing the US government of unleashing the AIDS virus to exterminate the world's coloured people as 'bawdy humour'.

And certainly, when Wright's words emerged to threaten his Presidential bid, Obama knew exactly what to do with them: he took the pastor's appeals to the basest of anti-American and racially divisive instincts, and leveraged them into an appeal for unity.

He delivered a speech in which he patronised Wright as a harmless old man driven mad by racial injustice (although apparently no more unreasonable than Obama's own grandmother), and presented himself as having risen above such foolishness, burnishing his image as a 'post-racial' figure.

Then, shortly after insisting that "race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now" he declared that it was time to stop talking about race, and move on. He even managed to get in a plug for his book.

Think about it: Obama earned himself wall-to-wall media coverage by making a speech about race which he might not have had the opportunity to make had he not at best acquiesced in, and at worst connived at, Wright's long history of racist demagoguery.

Talk about audacity.

Related: Stop the ACLU has a round-up of Obama's other unsavoury allies; Cliff Kincaid at CFP explores Obama's Marxist connections.

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