Respites

small man, giant albatross

Time now for the obligatory repudiation of Jeremiah Wright, whose cartoonish performance Monday at the National Press Club threatens to undermine his former parishioner’s candidacy. I may not be familiar with the traditions of the black church, or prophetic theology, but I know an arrogant demagogue when I see one.

The good reverend claimed he has been misunderstood and misrepresented — blaming the media, how Clintonian — then repeated the same noxious comments that attracted scrutiny. Maybe he took his own comments out of context.

Speaking before an audience that included Marion Barry, Cornel West, Malik Zulu Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam official Jamil Muhammad, Wright praised Louis Farrakhan, defended the view that Zionism is racism, accused the United States of terrorism, repeated his view that the government created the AIDS virus to cause the genocide of racial minorities, stood by other past remarks (“God damn America”) and held himself out as a spokesman for the black church in America.

Wright’s security was provided by bodyguards from Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. So was much of his message.

“Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter’s being vilified for and Bishop Tutu’s being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that’s what I think about him. . . . Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn’t make me this color.”

How, then, must Barack Obama respond? Damned if anyone knows, though he at least needs to be more emphatic in his condemnation.

It’ll be difficult for Obama to address what I suspect is the real story behind his relationship with Wright. Here’s a young guy, of mixed race, educated at Harvard and reared in Hawaii, trying to make it on Chicago’s South Side. Not with that resume.

Wright gave him street cred, maybe even some spiritual guidance. For perhaps the first time in his life, Obama felt at home within the black community (easy to figure, considering he was born in Kansas and grew up on the islands).

Maybe he figured Wright’s generation had cause to believe as his pastor did. Maybe he was desensitized by the chorus of amens — the cult of the reverend’s personality. Maybe he feared the potential political damage caused by distancing himself from such an influential figure. Maybe he was a coward. Maybe he saw slithers of wisdom beneath the bluster.

Regardless, Obama is advised to sever the relationship, a divorce made easier by Wright’s callow obstinance. It won’t be pretty, but his political survival may depend on it.

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