Disloyal Obama’s Duplicity

Bill Burton, a key Obama adviser, when asked why Obama disinvited his spiritual mentor Jeremiah Wright to speak at Obama’s presidential race kick off, said, “Senator Obama is proud of his pastor” and that Obama wanted to “avoid having statements and beliefs” of Wright show up on blogs and conservative talk shows. So Otis Moss III was asked to speak instead. Of course, Moss’s statements and beliefs are no different from Wright’s, but then the media hasn’t pursued that. They have made this about Wright, because they believe they can—as Obama has done—dismiss him. But it’s not about Wright; it’s about Trinity United Church of Christ and black liberation theology.

At the time, Al Sharpton criticized Obama over the disinvitation saying that blacks were rightly distressed by Obama failing to stand by his pastor. Sharpton doesn’t make this criticism any more, even though Obama has failed to stand by his pastor in even more dramatic fashion as of late.

Wright understood why Obama distanced himself from church teachings. “When his enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli [to visit Muammar el-Qaddafi] with [Louis] Farrakhan,” he said, “a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell.” Wright also knew that such statements as the following one could prove fatal to Obama (if, of course, the media ever harped on them): “White America and the Western world came to realize [in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks] 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.” (I guess I don’t really need to point out that this quote hasn’t been discussed at all in the current discussion over Wright’s teachings, even though it is a well known among those who are paying attention.)

Obama knew full well the character of Wright’s language, telling Wright during the disinvitation conversation: “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.” For those slow on the uptake, this means that Obama is lying when he says he was unaware of the controversial remarks. Clinton’s misremembering of events during one hour 12 years ago in a war zone goes to the heart of her trustworthiness, we are told, but no similar claim is made about Obama’s continuing and deliberate deception in hiding his spiritual mentor from the public and denying that he heard controversial remarks (a story Obama can’t keep straight).

This really is the story: Obama’s lying. But the media isn’t reporting the story this way. The corporate media angle is that his speech was the best speech ever on race and Americans for the most part believe he addressed their concerns. The media doesn’t provide the proper angle because, as it is as obvious as anything could be at this point, their goal is to see to it that Obama gets the nomination. Whether their overwhelming support for Obama stems from the desire to ameliorate the guilt they feel as whites over racism or sabotage Hilary Clinton’s chances is a matter of interpretation. (Maybe it’s both.)

Wright has cancelled many of his appearances of late, one suspects because the attention they would receive would prove embarrassing to Obama. But one wonders why Wright, who once said that Obama was “the hope of the world,” continues to do Obama’s bidding. Wright warned both Obama and Moss years ago that an Obama presidential campaign would make criticism of Trinity inevitable. I’m sure he didn’t expect Obama to turn his back on the church and reduce its preacher to a crazy old uncle who says bizarre things when that inevitability manifested itself in the clips of Wright’s sermons shown on YouTube.

Obama now says he would have quit the church if Wright hadn’t retired. “Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.” But that’s not what Obama said in the “greatest speech ever.” Remember what he said then? “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.” 

Obama can’t get his story straight. He says he never heard controversial remarks despite being a member of the church for twenty years. Then he says in his speech he did hear controversial remarks. Then he says after his speech that he didn’t hear controversial remarks, that he wasn’t there those days. Then we learn that he didn’t let Wright speak at the ceremony announcing his run for the White House because of Wright’s controversial statements. He says Wright is family and he can’t disown him and that’s why he didn’t leave the church. Now he says that had Wright not retired he would have left the church.

Obama knows that, if white America ever realizes that for two decades Obama faithfully, willingly, and enthusiastically attended a church where the minister preached the things Wright preached week in and week out, Clinton will likely be the nominee of the Democratic Party. But the truth is that this is exactly what happened. So rather than simply admit it and take this opportunity to explain to America what Trinity United is all about, Obama lies. And the media covers and spins.

Wright and Trinity United got attention a while back when another member of the church, Oprah Winfrey—who says that “Obama is the one we’ve been waiting for” (The Matrix?)—actually stopped attending the church (she hasn’t been a member for nearly a decade), because she didn’t like Wright’s rhetoric—again, rhetoric Obama has always known about but which he denies knowing. Wright didn’t take Oprah’s leaving well. When asked about it, he said, “She has broken with the (traditional faith)…. She now has this sort of ‘God is everywhere, God is in me, I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to be a part of a body of believers, I can meditate, I can do positive thinking’ spirituality.’ It’s a strange gospel. It has nothing to do with the church Jesus Christ founded.”

Although Obama never left the church, he has turned his back on the church’s teachings. As readers of my blog know, Wright advanced what he called a “Black Value System,” one of the tenets of which is the rejection of “middleclassness.” This value issues from the Marxist character of black liberation theology. Obama has fully embraced the middle class lifestyle, pitching his campaign specifically to the middle class voter—the white affluent college-educated liberal who wants desperately to vote for any black man to prove to themselves that anything is possible in America. Working people (except working class blacks, who are tragically voting on the basis of identity politics and not on the basis of their objective interests during this campaign season) get this and therefore are supporting the candidate with the practical policy and program proposals (who has the added bonus of potentially beating McCain in November).

You can’t trust Obama. He has either sold out completely or he was always lying to the south side of Chicago. In any case, he has been lying to Americans all along and he won’t stop lying about all of this.

Obama is getting a free ride from the corporate media. Obama tells the public that any statement his preacher made that offends them he did not personally hear (because he wasn’t in church on those days) and he categorically condemns and denounces it. Then he says he heard controversial statements made by Wright while sitting in the pews of Trinity United. Then he says he didn’t. Now Obama says he would have left the church had Wright not retired. But Wright was making these remarks at least throughout the present decade.

Did Wright tell Obama he was going to retire in 2008 way back in 2001 when he gave his “Chickens coming home to roost” sermon and Obama rode it out until then? Oprah left because of what Wright said and there was a public war of words over the matter. Why didn’t Obama do the same? Is the new minister (Otis Moss) acceptable to Obama since Obama remains a member of the church? The press is not pressing Obama on any of these things. Nobody who gets anywhere near him is openly challenging his obviously absurd answers to the questions he asks himself. 

Electability is the central issue in this campaign, yet the media is too busy piling up Democratic voices on one side calling on Hillary to step aside and marginalizing those voices that point out how close the contest is. They want to stop the fight before the final bell because they the fear that Obama will stick out his chin and Clinton will land a knockout blow. They suspect there’s more in Obama’s past hanging over his candidacy and they desperately want Clinton to concede before that information gets out. They couldn’t contain the Wright sermons and they don’t want a repeat of that debacle before the big primaries coming up. While they were able to make a confusing speech appear to the public as a special speech by hyping it, there’s no guarantee that they can spin future speeches in the same way. 

The problem is not so much with what Reverend Jeremiah Wright has said, but with how Barack Obama has reacted to the controversy. For twenty years, Obama was a member of a church that preached black liberation theology, a Christian worldview with roots in Marxism. Yet, when he needed to appeal to white voters, Obama denied he knew about the character of Wright’s theology, denounced church teachings, and reduced Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his spiritual advisor, the man who put him in touch with his black identity, to a rough-and-tumble style preacher. Obama didn’t stand up for the black community or for black liberation theology. He gave a speech in which he treated racism for the most part as a thing of the past. He depicted the radicalism of Wright and others as anger and frustration held over from the 1950s and 1960s. It was a remarkable moment in which a politician believed to be something different was revealed as little more than a superficial and willing pawn of the establishment.

There are some who are claiming that Barack Obama is being subjected to a Willie Horntoning. They defend the reverend, but also cast Obama as the victim. He’s not. Obama is pulling a Sister Souljah. The progressive community should be out front in condemning Obama for this. The media’s reaction to Wright’s comments was predictable. Obama’s reaction to Wright’s comments were despicable.

Recently, The Washington Post interviewed Peter Paris, professor emeritus of Christian social ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary. Paris worries that Obama’s condemnation of some of Wright’s words could hurt him in some black churches. It is interesting that, instead of condemning Obama for his betrayal of the church, many progressive theologians are concerned about how Obama’s speech plays among black church goers with respect to how it helps or hurts Obama.

“So many black churches understand the role of prophetic speech alongside of pastoral speech, and I don’t think that Obama helped…communicate that strongly enough,” Paris said. “I hope that he doesn’t find black churches moving away from him in that respect.” Paris said that Wright’s comments about past slavery and modern-day segregated schools are not, as Obama claimed, “distorted.” “Jeremiah Wright is seen as a major prophetic voice in the black community,” Paris said, “and there are many people who adore him.”

Yet Paris, who was a divinity school classmate with Wright in the 1960s, is an Obama supporter. Why, if Paris and others realize that Obama’s characterization of black liberation theology as distorted is wrong, do they support him? Do folks still think Ferraro was wrong to say that the reason why Obama is doing so well is because some Americans are caught up in the idea of a black president?

I think people have to understand Obama’s motive. Either he joined Trinity United because he believes in black liberation theology and its black Christian Marxist roots or he used Trinity United to find his black identity and build a constituency. It doesn’t appear that Obama ever believed in black liberation theology. He used the church as a stepping stone and then when he got to where he wanted to be—at the threshold of the Democratic nomination—he turned his back on them.

Even if Obama still holds to black liberation theology and is denying it because he knows he couldn’t get elected otherwise, then he’s perpetrating a fraud of mega-proportions. If you know people won’t like you because of what you believe, and you have the courage of your convictions, then you don’t pretend to be something else; you tell them what you believe and let the chips fall where they may. Obama is too busy feeding everybody what they want to hear to have any convictions.

As an aside, I wonder how much press this latest thing about Italians with their “garlic noses” will get. Wright is big on this metaphor of Rome as the United States. No way did Barack Obama not know about this thread. It pops up over and over again. Two days ago Obama discussed the “very objectionable things [said] when I wasn’t in church on those particular days.” How convenient. If Wright says anything objectionable, just assume that Obama wasn’t in church that day. That may work for Obama true believers, but to rational persons it’s ludicrous.

If the press was going after Obama the way it’s going after Hillary this race wouldn’t be close. Seriously, I would really like to see a video of Obama laughing and clapping in the pew over one of Wright’s objectionable comments. Trouble is, they’re likely hiding that evidence. For some reason or another, even though Obama threw Wright and Trinity United under the bus, they’re still protecting him.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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