Obama should not suffer for being maximally ethical

Mar 23 2008 Published by under Politics

I read a particularly annoying letter to the editor in The Tennessean this morning that assets that Obama's candidacy is "over" because he refused to abandon the preacher, a longtime friend, who made some racist (anti-white) statements.  What's more, this letter writer, Edgar Davie, seems to think that this is as it should be.

I certainly hope that Davie is wrong in his prediction; I know that he is wrong in his moralizing.

In our soundbyte-and-scandal driven media-saturated election season, the most extreme response to any negative feedback seems to be what people always demand. If somebody in the Clinton campaign makes a statement about race that others find offensive, rather than thinking about it and engaging it, that person is expected to resign.  If an ally of a candidate makes statements that we would find alarming if made by the candidate himself, the candidate is expected to fully repudiate and reject that ally in all ways.

And, yet, what does Obama do?  He shows that we can be thoughtful, that we need not have the most extreme reaction to the slightest offense.  He shows that in fact reality, including human relationships and difficult issues, are complicated.  They need to be met head on with care and consideration, not with immediate and extreme reactions designed for media spin control.  This is exactly what we should want in a presidential candidate.  Obama's famous race speech should in fact be getting him all the positive responses we've seen because it's the perfect response, it's what we need to have been doing all along.  I just hope that Davie is wrong in asserting that the thoughtful response will be forgotten before the demands for a thoughtless and immediate response.

Consider: Rev. Wright is a longtime and deep family friend of Obama.  Myself, I have friends whom I still consider friends even though I have heard them espouse beliefs about homosexuals that I consider bigoted.  I have grandparents and relatives that I still love despite having heard them make statements about race that I consider bigoted.  Am I just as much a bigot as them for refusing to completely cut off my relationships because they say things that I disagree with?  Ask yourselves; does everybody in your life that you value hold identical views with you about such charged topics?  Have you completely abandoned all of those who may have publicly expressed a bigoted view? And, if not, why demand that Obama do so?

Specifically with regard to his relationship with Rev. Wright, the most important statement Obama made was this: "I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy."

Obama has condemned the words that he disagrees with, that he finds wrong and offensive... and that so many of the rest of us find wrong and offensive.  If the campaign is about Obama, and not about finding a reason to somehow justify not voting for Obama, this should be enough.  Why then do people demand that he completely abandon the man, the cherished and loved friend of his family?  We really do not want a president who will do that.  We want a president who will engage those whom he disagrees with, those whom (dare I say it) are wrong.  Who will continue to take their wisdom where they are wise, who will try to change their hearts where they are wrong, but who will no matter what continue to respect and value them as human beings worthy of our care and compassion.

Everybody, grow up.  Obama has.

5 responses so far

  • DC says:

    I disagree.

    Obama fashioned himself as something new. A man of the future who told us we could transcend the race barrier. People liked that idea, but then we find that it was all talk. That he has spent the last 20 years listening to the "old" hate, racism and bigotry he said we must transcend. people pick their home churches very carefully. If they hear something from the pulpit that they disagree with or something that is not scriptually based, they call their Pastor on it or leave to find one that is grounded in love, compassion and what Jesus taught. Mr. Obama did not do this, in fact he did just the opposite by continuing to attend this "church."

    My white grandmother was also a woman that had many things to say. She was a good person who told me to look at the charachter in people, not at their skin color. I believed her then, and do today. She also told me that "Actions speak louder than words." If Barack's grandmother has told him that, he has forgotten it.

  • Oddball says:

    The problem I have isn't just what the good Reverend said recently. It's that he's been espousing such statements since before he came to the Trinity United Church of Christ. He's also publicly stated several times that the CIA created AIDS to kill the black man, the US government is directly responsible for 9-11, and so on. Oh, and is a big buddy of that wonderful man that espouses love to everyone, Farakkan. I find it incredibly hard to believe that Obama didn't know about all of this (as he's claimed), since Wright has been his chosen spiritual leader for the past 20 years.

    I know a vote for Obama does not mean a vote for Wright, but I think it's right for it to give people pause. Obama has chosen Wright as his spiritual leader for the past 20 years, confers with him often on important matters, and, until recently, had Wright as one of his major representatives in his campaign. It's difficult to look at that and not believe that they share many of the same beliefs and that Wright.

    I don't believe that Obama should drop from the race and go hide. The speech he gave after this hit the 6 o'clock news was truly great and I think he's done a great job of damage control. That said, I don't see this any different than if it turned out that one of McCain's long time mentors and chief adviser was a major player in the KKK. Oh, and I find the difference between Obama's reaction to Imus' one statement, and his reaction to Wright's beliefs.

    Oh, and sorry for the rant.

  • BillForObama says:

    It's great to have all of you to weigh in on both sides of this debate. Both sides of the debate are entitled to their own opinions.

    In as much as Mr. Obama confessed that Pastor Wright has been been his mentor and spiritual leader does not mean that he accepted the negative feelings that Pastor Wright has. One could make the argument either way. I often speak with people who have a differencing of opinion from myself so that I can fully understand the other side of the issue. Then I make a decision based upon what I know is to be morally right.

    Perhaps, I would want to ask Mr. Obama for an example of the kind of advice that he would seek from Pastor Wright and how the advice given shaped his decision.

  • Bert Ahern says:

    I like Rob's post on Obama. What strikes me is the rapidity with which people accept the characterization of Rev. Wright as hateful. Even the clips designed to make him appear racist are not persuasive to those who know about the history of this country. How could we expect God to bless America [any nation for that matter] with its multitude sins. Martin Luther King, Jr., hoped that the obvious sin of racism would help the U.S. to achieve its better self, but what Christian could expect Christ to bless a nation-state committed to expansive power and uneven prosperity even as we expect Him to bless all humanity. The theologian Martin Marty, as white and Lutheran as they come, is on record as having visited Rev. Wright's congregation many times, always having been made to feel welcome and struck by the love that pervaded the congregation. Obama's speech will have a long life, no matter how the election turns out. We should also see what we can learn from Rev. Wright. If we love our country, we should be willing to look at all the criticisms dispassionately, accept that our nation is imperfect, and work "toward a more perfect Union."

  • Nancy Knop says:

    Rob, thanks for this blog. (Up front: I'm Rob's mom) One thing many may not know is how open Obama's denomination, The United Church of Christ, is to very large differences of opinion. In many churches, the word from the pulpit is heard as God's word. Not so in the United Church of Christ (UCC). I copied the following from the UCC website and invite all readers to visit the site.

    "Intelligent dialogue and a strong independent streak sometimes cause the United Church of Christ (UCC) and its 1.4 million members to be called a “heady and exasperating mix.” The UCC tends to be a mostly progressive denomination that unabashedly engages heart and mind. And yet, the UCC somehow manages to balance congregational autonomy with a strong commitment to unity among its nearly 6,000 congregations—despite wide differences among many local congregations on a variety of issues."

    Rob, you grew up in the UCC, and you know how much disagreement there was even in our fairly mainstream church. Another point: The United Church of Christ has Pilgrim/Puritan Congregational roots, with the way the church works based on the same principles as the New England town meeting and, later, the United States. We need to be able to disagree, even strongly, to be good citizens.

    Obama's speech was truly important. I agree with Bert. I agree with DC and Oddball that Wright's PUBLICIZED statements are horrible. I also know that what gets publicized is never the whole story. I hope DC and Oddball will read Obama's entire speech and reflect more. My newspaper printed two full pages of his speech! What a gift to be able to think about more than a 30-second soundbite.