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Endorsed by God

Reverend Wright tarnished Obama’s image as America’s anointed savior
By STEVEN STARK  |  April 9, 2008


The press has begun to bury the Reverend Jeremiah Wright story, convinced by the polls that the issue — for the most part — has gone away. But the issue of Barack Obama’s association with his pastor is unlikely to disappear completely because it so undercuts what made the Illinois senator’s political appeal unique.

A strong religious sentiment runs through American political rhetoric — one that exists almost nowhere else in the world, even in nations such as Italy or England, where there is an official or unofficial state religion. Our tradition goes back to John Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans, who came here with a religious mission. Winthrop’s famous 17th-century speech (which Ronald Reagan was known to quote) was America’s first great piece of rhetoric, with its exhortation, “We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

Ever since, the nation has looked upon itself as a distinctive experiment, blessed by Providence, and it’s remarkable how many great American speeches have referenced religion or God. Our patriotism is a civic religion. Abraham Lincoln spoke of the Almighty often, never more eloquently than in his second inaugural address, when he said of the Union and Confederacy, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”

John F. Kennedy, a secular speaker if there ever was one, ended his own inaugural address by saying, “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” And it’s no coincidence that the greatest American speech of the past half-century, Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” address, was delivered by a theologian and structured like a sermon, with quotes from scripture.

Chapter and verse
The key to Obama’s success as an orator and politician has always been how deftly he’s tapped into this tradition — perhaps more effectively than has any other political speaker in modern times. It began with his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic convention, where he paraphrased Lincoln, saying, “The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States — Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.” And that quasi-religious approach has continued both in his inimitable “pulpit” style of political speechmaking, with its roots in black church rhetoric, and his constant inspirational theme of uplift, stressing how Americans need to work together.

What makes Obama unique politically is how quasi-religious he is; he doesn’t orate, he preaches, stressing “above politics” (heavenly?) solutions. His style is especially noteworthy given that he hails from the political party whose members tend to be ostensibly far less religious than their counterparts across the aisle. That, in fact, helps explain a large part of Obama’s appeal to Democratic voters, especially those who are young. Being an Obama-ite is to be part of a new faith for a constituency that often lacks a more traditional one. Perhaps not surprising, many have remarked how Obama has attracted a kind of religious devotion in his followers, unmatched by any other political figure in decades.

Which brings us back to Obama’s relationship with Wright. In a nation where politics and religion are so intertwined — at least rhetorically — it’s never a good idea to be intimately associated with those who spend a lot of time trashing either God or America (which, to a good many Americans, are pretty much the same thing). It’s particularly inadvisable for a candidate who’s based virtually his whole appeal on his ability to be a kind of quasi-religious figure who can purge our politics of negativity and unite the nation in a common goal.

Yet that’s exactly what has happened to Obama. One can — and Obama did — come up with a litany of good reasons why Wright might have chosen his particular words. And one can — again, Obama did — make an eloquent argument as to why the attitudes Wright articulates indicate a need for further racial understanding.

But what Obama will never be able to explain away is why, of all the people in the world who could inspire him on a weekly basis, he chose the one who was known to exclaim, “God damn America,” and preached a gospel not particularly distinguished by an appeal to everyone’s better nature. Alas, we are judged by the company we keep — as well we should be, when the company is a chief spiritual advisor.

In truth, Americans are an understanding lot and can tolerate the thunderings of the Wrights among us. Professors, prophets, and priests have hurled fire and brimstone before, and now radio talk-show hosts do the same.

But political leaders in our system, going back to Winthrop, have a different role: we look to them to elevate and inspire the body politic. Until now, Obama appeared uniquely qualified to assume that role. After hearing his reverend preach, however, it’s an open question whether a majority of Americans will ever look at him the same way again.


The nominee

Odds: 1-5 | past week: same
Odds: 5-1 | same


Pledged: 1415
Superdelegates: 224
Total: 1639
Short by: 385

Pledged: 1251
Superdelegates: 252
Total: 1503
Short by: 521

Delegates needed to win: 2024

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Endorsed by God
Mr. Stark is incapable of understanding the answer to the question he poses. Obama was told by America that he was black. He didn't get to make that choice. America made it for him. While I have no doubt that his family loved him very much, they were incapable of teaching him what it meant to be black in America. Think about it. Where did he go as soon as he graduated from Columbia? Straight to the south side of Chicago to work as a community organizer; working with large numbers of African Americans. They also saw him as an outsider because he was. He was unable to understand the culture of doubt that so many minorities in America face because he wasn't brought up with it. To understand it, he had to make it a part of himself. So while we pigeonhole Rev. Wright into some crazed caricature, which of course, we'd never do to the likes of a Falwell, because, well, he's white; Obama saw through the resentment and suspicion that Rev. Wright still holds. As historically illiterate as we are, perhaps now would be a good time to remember that Rev. Wright served his nation as a marine, attended seminary and returned to a Chicago where black leaders like Fred Hampton were assasinated in their beds by COINTELPRO and Chicago P.D. Or that the Tuskegee experiments observing the progression of untreated syphilus in the black male had not even yet come to conclusion. Basically, Mr. Stark, I think you are a histoprically illiterate blow hard.
By vik on 04/10/2008 at 12:30:26
Endorsed by God
I know for a fact, Mr Stark, that you are not illiterate. But I have to say that it was refreshing to find out that the church Senator Obama subscribes to was not a brainwashing born-again deal. Reverend Wright should not have said what he said, but it was an honest mistake from an honest man. Remember: it was Nobel Lauriate Bishop Tutu who said, "America can go to hell." My respect for Obama went up when I heard his pastor's comments. It showed me that his own church has no business with the religious right, which was my one reservation about Obama being a Christian (which I am not).
By gordon on 04/10/2008 at 1:02:06
Endorsed by God
One minor point....I find Lincoln's "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.", far more eloquent than the passage you mentioned. I think you should get out more.
By george fredericks on 04/10/2008 at 6:51:21
Endorsed by God
Vik's racist remarks are merely to propogate the same incredible hate we saw Wright drool on several different occasions...and no, we won't tolerate much more of that kind of blatant vitriol from anyone nor should we...we, the people, can no longer afford to. Even the insanity of Wright's outrageous conspiracy theories were pale in comparison but, the treasonous ramblings left their indelible mark as his mindless sheep cheered on. When and if those involved in rascism stop trying to excuse themselves by teaching hate and criminally throwing the race card on others can they possible begin to heal and grow as human beings. Otherwise, they're merely declaring war.
By Winghunter on 04/10/2008 at 6:17:13
Endorsed by God
I believe the Tuskegee experiments are recorded fact and not conspiracy theory.
By gordon on 04/10/2008 at 9:16:50
Endorsed by God
I was averse to saying this, but I will: Obama is a revolutionary. Look where he's from--Chicago, just like the Black Panthers. But Samuel Adams and Paul Revere were revolutionaries too. We are going to see turmoil as the black man breaks his final chains, but this is justice, and the American way as we should know it. The French Revolution changed mankind for the better, and the Obama Revolution will free the white man just as it will the black man. Obama has demonstrated that he has a great mind, and he is bound to make his way to the presidency, the grandstanding of Clinton and McCain notwithstanding. To be sure, he is a man of peace, but he is also a man with a mission. He is speaking for twenty million people, and through them, to 250 million. Let's give up the bottle of brain-dead patriotism and get on the wagon.
By gordon on 04/11/2008 at 5:51:46
Endorsed by God
"Being an Obama-ite is to be part of a new faith for a constituency that often lacks a more traditional one." And we all know, or should, about the dangers of new converts to new faiths coming out of cynicism into credulity. Charisma appeals to the emotions, not the intellect, and though charismatic figures include MLK, FDR, and Churchill on one hand, they also include Hitler, Jim Jones, and Rasputin on the other. Charisma and charm are means of emotional manipulation, and the followers of Obama ought to be a little more circumspect. Perhaps their intellectual "sophistication" is obscuring their ability to see their own emotional gullibility. Obama's charisma is the Emperor's New Clothes of American politics. He's an empty shirt with a charming veneer concealing a passive-aggressive chip on his shoulder. In college he sought out the radicals but practiced being polite to the grown-ups so he could lubricate those relationships (from an interview in the NYT Sun. Mag, I think). He's a phoney, in plain English, but it appears that he's been at it so long he believes his own act. Obama is the perfect candidate for the intellectually "sophisticated" boomers who loved the FEELING of moral superiority they had in the 60s, and want to drink some more of that FEEL-good Kool-Aid. Obama claims to unite, but brings out the worst in some. Like vik: "...we pigeonhole Rev. Wright into some crazed caricature, which of course, we'd never do to the likes of a Falwell, because, well, he's white." Falwell just died, and the web versions of mainstream news accounts of his death mock Falwell, in some cases explicitly, instead of observing some of the "delicacy" usually afforded in stories of someone's death. NPR: "A fundamentalist preacher, Falwell burst onto the national scene in 1979, when he launched an organization he presumptuously called the Moral Majority. Critics liked to say that it was neither." BBC: "The BBC's Vanessa Heaney in Washington says Mr Falwell was a controversial figure who offended many. . . . In 1999, he denounced the BBC TV children's show The Teletubbies, because he believed one character, Tinky Winky, was homosexual." MSNBC's account was more accurate about the Tinky-Winky affair than the BBC: "...his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, a purple, purse-toting character on television’s “Teletubbies” show, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children." But the MSNBC story gave the last word to one of Falwell's enemies: "Matt Foreman... added: 'Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation.' " This treatment isn't any better than that which Wright gets. Both of these religious extremists deserve, and get bad press. But self-indulgent victimhood is about feelings, not facts.
By bob888 on 04/13/2008 at 10:08:30
Endorsed by God
now there appears to be two problems with the obama campaign. the first has been long standing. axelrod, the media driven. they never bothered to develop a serious field organization. instead they've relied on a peter=pan like fade in, fade out a cadre of summer activists and cool t.v. spots. the second, now beginning to peep from under the covers, is the candidate's inability to swing a substatitive blow to an opponent. the lack of 'there-there' is showing....and it's a bit sad. the axelrod axis appears frightened to encompase the tested organizers of other organizations, and that behavior has begun to close in and strangle his effort. perhaps he/they will have time to reflect upon that in front of the fireplace, next winter, in hyde park
By jeffery mcnary on 04/14/2008 at 4:54:09
Endorsed by God
a little avuncular advice to bob: take a freshman comp course. you don't know how to illustrate the flimsy argument you've got, let alone stay on track. Better yet, study the words of the man you are badmouthing in such an infantile way and with such bad faith. to jeffrey: obama's stance on the economy is sound and rigorous. unfortunately it has to withstand clinton's neo-mccarthyist harpie hypocrisy. Even her aides admit that he is right, they are just concerned about what the far right can do with his words. advice to sen. mccain: read marx, if you have any doubts about economy determining values...obama is a man of great tenacity and pluck. don't be surprised if he ends up simply appropriating ali's rope-a-dope technique of tiring the opponent out and then coming in with his one-two punch.
By gordon on 04/15/2008 at 2:54:10

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