Talking The Talk

I didn’t get a chance to see Barack obama’s speech yesterday (I was at work), but I did get to read the transcript. And it’s a hell of a speech. I agree with a lot of what the guy says about race in America.

But he didn’t resolve the issue of his association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his Trinity United Church of Christ.

I’m no scholar of the whole mess, but I do know a few of the key facts here:

Obama has been a member of that church — under Reverend Wright — for about 23 years. That puts his joining to around 1984.

In 1984, Wright accompanied Jesse Jackson to Libya on a private mission that led to the freedom of a US Navy pilot shot down over Lebanon. (Not overly relevant, but shows that Wright’s involvement in national affairs dates back to about the time Obama joined. At the time, I thought that Jackson’s move was technically a violation of federal law, but the freeing of Lt. Goodman was worth overlooking the technical violation of the Logan Act.)

There is no definitive timeline for Wright’s various and sundry hateful remarks, but his comments about 9/11 — saying that “(i)n the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the Western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just “disappeared” as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns” — were published in the church’s official magazine in October 2003.

Obama was elected to the United States Senate in 2004.

So, for well over four years, Reverend Wright has been spouting his racially divisive message. And during that time, Barack Obama honored him with a book title, extensive portions of his books, praised him in public, sought his counsel before running for the Senate and making other crucial decisions, and named him to his presidential campaigns.

I am reminded of another incident involving a United States Senator, just a few years ago.

Senator Strom Thurmond was having his 100th birthday party. In attendance were many notables and luminaries, but the most remembered moment was when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott took the stage and said the following:

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

Not the smartest thing to say, considering that Thurmond ran on an explicitly segregationist platform in 1948. But how significant was it in December of 2002?

I took it not as a confession of racism, of a calling for the return of segregation, but a man saying something nice for an old man who, in all likelihood, would be dead soon. (And Thurmond did, indeed, die barely six months later.) It was in the spirit of “don’t speak ill of the dead,” a couple of months early.

That didn’t matter. Lott was branded as a bigot and a racist, and he had to resign.

Likewise, while I am interested in what Obama has to say about Wright now, I am more interested in what he said before Wright’s beliefs and statements got out into the general public. (Through the incredibly devious and underhanded tactic of buying magazines and DVDs that reproduce his sermons from the Trinity United Church, which sells them as fundraisers.) And those are fulsome praise, unabashed and unconditional respect and affection and camaraderie.

Obama’s actions also speak loudly. As I noted above, right up until word started getting around, Wright was a key member of both Obama’s campaign and his life in general.

Trent Lott had to resign his Senate leadership position barely two weeks after he made his remarks.

Will Obama have to pay any sort of price for his long-standing association with Wright, or will his repudiation — which only came out after the general public learned what those who were closest to Wright must have known for years — prove sufficient?

The standard has been set.

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