Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright's Return

Digby isn't terribly impressed by Wright's comments.

I'm not either.
I have frankly been a little bit confused by the reaction to Reverend Wright's recent comments around the sphere and even here on this blog. I thought most people in the Netroots were big Obama supporters and yet they defend Reverend Wright, which I find rather surprising considering what he did.

It's true that after Obama's Philadelphia speech, I too defended Wright's sermons and even got a more positive sense of Barack Obama's worldview as a result of hearing what he'd said and listening to Obama's explanations for them. Other than a vague sense that he was something of a showboater, I was not hostile to to the man.

But Wright's latest round of media appearances have not seemed to me to be any kind of defense of liberalism or the black church or even Black Liberation Theology so much as one man's desire to deny a rival his destiny. This was personal and I find it very creepy.

John Amato shared some of my impressions:

Seeing Wright go on Moyers Friday night—at first, I didn’t understand why he’s doing this. Why did he need to come out now and use such loaded rhetoric that the media would pounce on? In the middle of a ugly primary race, he makes himself the story for another three news cycles. Then after I watched his National Press Club appearance, I wondered if he was actually trying to hurt Obama’s chances of winning even the primary because his ego wouldn’t allow him to hang back until December to have his say. It seems Obama has the same feelings.
And rightly so. Reverend Wright called into question the entire premise of Obama's campaign, a campaign built on changing the very nature of politics, when he said, "he did what politicians do." There was no need for him to speak out now except to gin up the controversy at the worst possible time. Any person of sensitivity would have at least waited until this tough, hard fought primary had ended. It was a self-aggrandizing, personal attack and it says something important about the man....

...Clearly [Obama] sees it as a betrayal and a deeply personal one. And so it was. So much so that I felt uncomfortable even watching it. Obama trusted Reverend Wright. As he pointed out, Wright had married him and Michelle, baptized their children, prayed with them over major events in their lives. Obama was very generous with him in his Philadelphia speech, offering a personal endorsement of his good character. And yet, knowing that Obama is fighting this ridiculous rumor about being a Muslim, Wright shows up at the National Press Club with bodyguards from the Nation of Islam and praises Farrakhan? Outrageous.
This all really doesn't seem to have an upside for anybody.

Wright looks like an asshole. Sorry for the language, but it's true. Had he said he understands Obama et al that'd be one thing, but his comments about Obama being "just a politician" are an asshole move of the highest order, one he's smart enough to understand the consequences of. Plus, by repeating the AIDS nonsense, he's lost all credibility. Foreign policy is debatable, as is white America's reaction to America's black churches, but the AIDS comments are beyond the pale. I had thought that these were remnants of past ignorance, long remedied. A bit too charitable, I suppose. He's getting fame, but it's more infamy than anything else.

(The sad thing is that the US Government is somewhat culpable for the spread of AIDS in that it ignored its existence and threat. But that's a more complex and difficult issue of rampant homophobia and ignorance; far easier to claim a conspiracy. Bit like the "truthers", that.)

Obama has to deal with this, and with the man he refused to "throw under the bus" doing the same thing back to him. There is a bit of an upside to it all, in that Obama can now repudiate the man without worrying about looking like a traitor, but the whole "20 years" thing has gained salience. Obama deserved credit for not willing to abandon a friend that he disagreed with; I still believe that, and always will. But he did, apparently, misjudge Wright's character.

Yet Clinton and McCain are now in tricky positions as well. Clinton has to play this very carefully. She's already on the verge of having to sacrifice the African-American and progressive communities if she wants the superdelegates to overturn Obama's near-insurmountable grassroots advantage. That would almost certainly cost her the election; the white middle class voters that she's counting on in the primary aren't likely to be overwhelming supporters in the general, and the ones that would vote for her are the ones who are almost certainly willing to vote for any Dem.

As for McCain, he has to deal with the reality of his own party's racial issues. Hit Wright too hard, and it will almost certainly embolden the racist, nativist elements in the party to come out in force. We're already starting to see hints of that, and they're already going to be pressing McCain to see just how much of a conservative he really is. While the black vote is already lost to the Republican, this could have an effect on OTHER minorities. If Obama is the nominee (as is still almost certainly the case) and the bleeding out of white Obama supporters is halted over the summer and fall, this could come back and bite McCain in the face. Remember, the press has a short attention span, and we've already seen their tendency to "build up and knock down". They haven't knocked down McCain yet, but he has to be aware of the possibility and plan for it.

Digby also brings up a really important point: that much of this is tied to the Dem's hamfisted attempt to wrap themselves up in religion. That was always a key part of Obama's campaign, one of the ones that I was never a huge fan of, and we've once again seen the Republicans pull the "strength into weakness" trick. But digby understands the broader point:
Amy Sullivan, one of the primary proponents of putting religiosity at the center of Democratic politics doesn't seem to know what to make of the problems Wright has caused for Obama. Apparently, she never considered the possible downsides of hewing so closely to religion that people think it's definitional. She and he friends didn't seem to realize that all the blather about secular Democrats was never about religion, but about social conservatism. You get no points for going to the "wrong kind" of church. You'd think they would have figured that out a long time ago.
Bolding mine. This continues to be the Dem's biggest weakness: they mistake methods for reasons. They see religion being used to attack Dems, and they think that the reason is because Dems aren't religious enough. So they emphasize their religion, and are surprised when it doesn't work. It doesn't work, though, because the reason has been, and always will be, to serve the interests of conservatism.

If they go to church? It's the wrong church. If they go to the right church? They pray the wrong way. They pray the right way? They're not "real" Christians because of disagreements with social conservative positions on issues.

The Dems need to figure out that they can't win this game. Not at this point. Not when the Republicans have become so very good at it. Obama can't win it, Clinton can't win it, Kerry couldn't win it, nobody can win it.

The only way to win is not to play; to ignore the snipes, build your own narrative, and run with that. Sure, you should respond, but not with "nuh-uh, I AM good enough, see?" You'll never be good enough for them. Riposte their attacks and hit back on all the things that they are terrible at.

With Republicans? That's pretty easy.

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