Barack Obama in New York. Photo: Hans Sandberg
He had to do it, but I don't think he did it because he has become an ordinary politician like Hillary Clinton. He had to do it, because the issues Jeremiah Wright raises cut to deep into the American fabric of history. And this election is not about setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s about cleaning up the mess after George W. Bush, and setting America on a new course, one of fairness, sustainable growth and one that seeks peace and international cooperation.
Much of what pastor Wright said at his speech to the NAACP on Saturday was true (excluding his comments on the spread of AIDS and homecoming chickens), despite what all the pundits say. He named and cursed the abuses and abusers of the past, and drew the line from then to now. And there is such a line.
America’s history is not pretty. For all the progress and greatness, it is also a story about genocide, slavery, desegregation and prejudice, a story of atrocities at home and abroad, like in the Philippines, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, and now in Iraq. For a preacher who is looking for sins to condemn, the U.S. history certainly does not lack material, and Wright surely knows how to spin a gruesome cathartic tale out of it.
But the difference between Wright and Obama is not one of historic morals, but of remedies. Powerful preachers like Wright have staged their thunderous performances for decades, but they have failed to change America. Obama realized that to change America, you have to build a broad coalition, and to build a broad coalition, you have to leave behind emotionally satisfying, but divisive rhetoric like that of reverend Wrights, and seek a conversation that speaks to the majority. Barack Obama understands what Oprah Winfrey understood. You can’t withdraw and lick your wounds and curse injustice. You have to reach out wide, and if you do, you will find that you’re not alone, you’re not an oppressed minority, but part of a broad post-racial coalition that can build the future.
It must have hurt bad to break the bond to a pastor, who might even have served as a surrogate father. He didn’t want to do it, but reverend Wright didn’t give him a chance. He was trapped in his rhetoric of bitterness, and as much as we understand him, we also realize that he could not provide a path ahead in this world.
Note: Check out Maureen Dowd's take on the father-son dynamic
"Having been deserted at age 2 by his father, Obama has now been deserted by the father-figure in his church, the man who inspired him to become a Christian, married him, dedicated his house, baptized his children, gave him the title of his second book and theme for his presidential run and worked on his campaign."
"The Illinois senator doesn’t pay attention to the mythic nature of campaigns, but if he did, he would recognize the narrative of the classic hero myth: The young hero ventures out on an adventure to seek a golden fleece or an Oval Office; he has to kill monsters and face hurdles before he returns home, knocks off his father and assumes the throne.
Tuesday was more than a Sister Souljah moment; it was a painful form of political patricide."
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