The topic comes up in reference to a Richard Cohen editorially saying that Obama needs to forcefully condemn his pastor and spiritual adviser, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., for giving an award in his magazine to Rev. Farrakhan. As David Bernstein points out, the praise was not in passing or even limited to the arguably positive elements of Farrakhan's agenda; rather, it was quite comprehensive and universal. And Dr. Wright, for his part, is no minor player in Obama's life -- indeed, Obama himself has continually stressed his pastor's role in his personal faith journey and his religious and political commitments.
So while there might be a little Kevin Bacon going on here, I don't think Obama necessarily deserves a pass. For one, while some folks are trying to stretch the chain of connection Obama (as Steve Benen put it, "Obama has a personal 'obligation to speak out' ... because his church’s pastor’s daughter’s magazine said something complementary about Farrakhan."), the link really isn't all that attenuated: Wright himself directly complimented Farrakhan in the following words:
“When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens,” says the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, likening the Minister’s influence to the E. F. Hutton commercials of old. “Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen…His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest.
“Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience,” continues Wright. “His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation’s most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere
about his faith and his purpose.”
And again, Wright is not just Obama's pastor, he's a key member of Obama's circle.
Obama's campaign has already clarified that he disagrees with Wright on this issue. That's good to know, although not particularly surprising -- nobody seriously thought Obama shared Wright's views on Farrakhan. But is that sufficient? I don't know. On the one hand, I'd like a more forceful repudiation, and I don't find the Kevin Bacon defense persuasive here. Here's Obama's statement on the matter:
I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.
The reason I don't quite find this enough is twofold; first, because "not a decision with which I agree" is very tame language, and second, because Trumpet Magazine and Rev. Wright's praise for Farrakhan seemed to explicitly go directly beyond his work on ex-offenders.
On the other hand, it's hard for me to put a finger on what I want beyond the secure knowledge that Obama doesn't believe Farrakhan is a good dude and won't act on the belief that he is, and I already have that. And it's not like media critics are falling over themselves to condemn GOP candidates (outside cranks like Ron Paul), or even other Democratic candidates, for their connections to anti-Semitic religious extremists. Farrell's point about the double-standard remains well taken, and I'm not sure what the practical implications of that should be. And as my TMV co-blogger T-Steel aptly reminds us, anyone who thinks that radical Black nationalism or the Nation of Islam will have any meaningful influence in a hypothetical Obama administration is delusional. So isn't this just a tempest in a teacup?
UPDATE: Ed is more defensive of Obama than I am? Man the barricades, I smell apocalypse.