Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Obama and Farrakhan

Black political leader Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) once made an interesting remark on Louis Farrakhan. Asked to repudiate some idiotic thing that the Nation of Islam leader said, Rangel responded that the statement in question was "garbage", but at the same time, argued that Black Americans should not "have to carry around their last statement refuting Farrakhan." In other words, the facial assumption should not be that Black leaders must positively disassociate themselves from the clergyman. At the very least, some indication of connection or sympathy to the man should be demonstrated first. Henry Farrell argues that "it’s an implicit double standard, under which black politicians have a higher hurdle to jump before they deserve public trust than white ones," and questions why, say, Hillary Clinton isn't subjected to whispers about her anti-Semitism from the media because she met with Billy Graham.

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.


PG said...

The anti-Huckabee types on the right are trying to hype a claim that the MSM has not been covering the controversial nature of Obama's church -- even though I've been seeing Pastor Wright mentioned in the NYTimes and similar venues since last spring. (On the upside, I guess it means they'll have to stop claiming Obama is actually Muslim. Or will the Farrakhan thing just further confuse that issue?)

The Farrakhan award is a problem in itself, but I think the larger difficulty is that many people don't grasp what is meant by the language the Trinity Church uses. Take Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds, two well-educated white men who work with words for a living. Either they genuinely are incapable of grasping what is meant by "the pursuit of middleclassness" or simply don't want to understand it.

I attempted at length to explain this to people in comments at Amber Taylor's blog and ran into the same wall of determined lack of understanding. People say, "Isn't it good to be middle class rather than poor?" Yes, of course. "Then how can they attack the pursuit of middleclassness? Clearly that's advocacy for staying mired in poverty and welfare dependence!"

Nooo, it's not. Wright's attack on "middleclassness" as a mindset is the same kind of attack that Sinclair Lewis et al. made on it in the last century. It is not an opposition to having money, but to money's making one insular, wholly self-regarding and indifferent to the less well-off. Because Kaus and his ilk conceive of poverty as an individual problem ("if you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps...), they have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that entire community can work together to stop the behaviors that influence one another and that keep people mired in poverty. (It's weird that they can't, considering the amount of grief they'll give black gangsta culture for hurting that same community. If everything is about the individual, who cares if drugs, crime and the ghetto are glorified?)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you see that you're being a bit unfair here. Obama has repudiated this guy and you yourself write that nobody seriously thought that Obama agreed with him anyway. So your problem seems to be that the condemnation wasn't strong enough for your taste.

With all due respect, that doesn't seem very rational.

Anonymous said...

Well, if any one can point to the anti-semitic remarks that Min. Farrakhan has stated, please show me. Min. Farrkhan has stated on several accassions that if any member of the Jewish community can show him where he was not speaking the Truth then he would go before the world and apologize, No one has stepped forward because they know that Min. Farrakhan is not an anti-semite. We understand why they call Min. Farrakhan this-it is because they do not want anyone to think outside of the mainstream way of thinkng. Sen. Obama must do what he must do. To keep asking this man to do this is to see if he will continue to bow to the external forces that rule this world. Min. Frrakhan is not such a man.

David Schraub said...

Too easy:

"Do you know some of these satanic Jews have taken over BET?... Everything that we built, they have. The mind of Satan now is running the record industry, movie industry and television." [11/11/07]

"These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is seeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength. It's the wicked Jews the false Jews that are promoting Lesbianism, homosexuality. It's wicked Jews, false Jews that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic!" [2/26/06]

"I'm not an anti-Semite, I never have been one. I do not hate the Jewish people; put that down! What I hate is the degree of control that they exercise over Black intellectual, cultural expression." [8/31/05, this one gets extra points for being anti-Semitic while claiming not to be]

"You say I hate Jews. I don't hate the Jewish people, I never have. But there [are] some things I don't like. 'What is it you don't like, Farrakhan?' I don't like the way you leech on us. See a leech is somebody that sucks your blood, takes from you and don't give you a damn thing. See, I don't like that kind of arrangement. You become our manager, you become our agent. Every one of us that got talent, we can't make it because you opened the door, and when you opened the door you get and we end up dead with nothing, owing the IRS." [10/16/03]


Anonymous said...

Foxman sometimes overreacts. But this time he is right.

Would you vote for a Presidential candidate (not your candidate for village supervisor, mind you )who refuses to end his /her membership in a golf club that
declines membership to Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, etc?
His expressed "disagreement " with the "views" of Wright/Farrakhan is not enough. As a candidate for President, not village dog catcher, he must
quit that church.Make a clean break. But he will not do it. Why should he? He is the media-made Messiah.

If Obama is unable to change Wright's mind, he should leave the church, Foxman said.

Anonymous said...

Grow up! If you havent realized it yet, Farrakhan is a very unusual man. Just the type that rises up after centuries of oppression and brutal racism and injustice. It must be so hard for white america to see a blackman that they cant deal with the way they dealt with our forefathers. Farrakhan represents the end of the master slave relationship between blacks and whites. What other alternative do you people have other than slandering a man who spells bad news for you, but the poor sure here him gladly. If you were wise you would leave Farrakhan alone.