Wright and Obama: Juggling Race, Politics, and Theology

With all of the flap over Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama in the news lately, we really have a perfect storm of sorts as far as stories go. It’s a mix of politics, race, and religion. I still believe that the media is completely ruining this story in many ways and Obama and Wright are in extremely difficult situations. I’d like to try and cut through some of the hype and misinformation out there.

First of all, it is essential to either read or listen to Rev. Wright himself on Bill Moyers or his speech at the National Press Club. I don’t agree with everything Wright has to say, but I agree with a lot of it. Even if he’s wrong on some points, he presents clear arguments for his views. Like them or not, he’s entitled to them.

Here’s the problem. Obama isn’t really fighting Wright. He’s fighting sound bits and public perception of Wright. Wright isn’t really fighting Obama. He’s fighting a very real hostility toward the black church and the injustices that he sees in the world. He’s fighting the media and the those who twist his words.

Obama’s Problem

Obama is intelligent. He gives well-thought-out, nuanced speeches that dig into the heart of issues. His refusal to play along with the cut of the Federal gas tax shows he’s willing to stand up for the big picture, even if it doesn’t look good in the short term. Some analysts believe his voting record bears out this kind of thinking.

In other words, Obama doesn’t always play well with sound bits. Part of that is a shortcoming in his communication: reducing his ideas to simple phrases the media can pass on to those who either don’t have the time to look up the context or don’t care. As I’m insinuating, part of the problem is our unwillingness to look into the larger picture he presents.

When Obama denounces Wright, my take is that he’s making a very broad, general statement that will cover him against any simpleton on cable TV twisting his words. Any qualifier may be exploited as a chink in the armor. In other words, he can’t accept part of Wright’s remarks because the media wants to know if he supports or renounces Wright. That’s it.  Either he’s in or out. Of course Obama has to say he’s out. Wright makes some explosive accusations that he would never make on his own. The media has foolishly tried to drop Wright’s words into Obama’s mouth verbatim, so of course Obama has to renounce the words of his former minister.

Once again, I could dig up reasons to not vote for Obama, but the words of his minister are simply ridiculous.


Wright’s Problem

Jeremiah Wright faces a very different problem. He has to speak up for the black church, and his own congregation in particular. Small bits of his sermons are being plastered all over the web and now he has to explain them. To make matters worse, he’s dropping some bad news on people–sharing things about America that run counter to our narrative of America as a just nation. I don’t envy his position.

We can debate the timing, but Wright felt the need to stand up for his church. Can anyone really blame him? We don’t have to like what he says to have sympathy for his position.

3 thoughts on “Wright and Obama: Juggling Race, Politics, and Theology

  1. Adam Malliet

    Good words, the Bill Moyers interview is a very good place to start if you want to understand Rev. Wright (more like Rev. Right, gasp).

    I am very impressed with Wright’s prophetic message, I hope that while Obama is distancing himself from him publicly that he is also listening carefully and taking to heart Wright’s teachings.

  2. ed Post author

    There’s a great line in the press club speech where Wright says he told Obama, “If you’re elected president, I’m coming after you.”

  3. Adam Malliet

    That’s reason enough to vote for Obama, that his pastor won’t let him off the hook! He will at least have to listen, Hillary and McCain certainly won’t. Of course if Nader was elected Rev. Wright might end up in the presidential cabinet.

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