What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Maybe whoever was responsible for releasing those sound and picture bites of Jeremiah Wright saying what appeared to be unconscionable things did Barack Obama a favor. I don’t know who was responsible. I know that a McCain campaign worker got suspended for distributing a link to a scurrilous youtube video titled "Is Obama Wright" to which I refuse to include a link here - if you want to look at it, it’s easy to find - but whether it was the McCain or Clinton campaigns that were responsible for the bites that we continue to see on Fox "News" and similar outlets, they did Obama a favor by doing it now and not during the general election - assuming that he becomes the Democratic candidate.

They did him a favor by allowing time for the voting public to find out if he really attended a church that was vitriolically anti American and was spiritually mentored by a rabid hatemonger. The hatemongers that I’m familiar with - the far right pundits who describe all those who are critical of them as hatemongers , will have no interest in looking beyond the audio/video bites that are out there. The likes of Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will continue to play the same bits over and over and continue to ask how we could even consider voting for someone who would associate himself with a man and a church that voiced such anti-American beliefs. It’s a powerful message. Even Obama has said that if those video snippets were all he knew about the reverend and Trinity Church, his reaction would likely be one of shock and anger. But apparently, there’s a little more to the story.

My first glimpse into the broader story was a radio interview that I heard over the weekend with the distinguished Lutheran minister Martin Marty. Reverend Marty is someone who knows Jeremiah Wright well and who has sat in his church and listened to his sermons. And while he agreed that some of the statements in the notorious video clips were "over the top" - his description of the man and his works was about as opposite as it could get from the impression left by those videos. And then this morning, out of curiosity, I brought up this web site to listen to the context in which the notorious "chickens coming home to roost" comments was made in a post 9/11 sermon. It’s a little over nine minutes as opposed to the few seconds of the two or three sound bites that were plucked out of this sermon to make him sound like he supported those who attached us on 9/11 - but it’s worth taking the time to listen - unless of course your mind is closed to the idea of anything other than another Republican president for the next four years.

But in the event that you don’t have the time or the interest, let me just point out that in this emotional yet very thoughtful lecture given after the 9/11 attack, Reverend Wright wasn’t himself asserting that "chickens had come home to roost". He was citing the appearance on a Fox News program of former diplomat and Chief of Mission in Baghdad 1977-1980 Edward Peck - and quoting what the Ambassador had to say about our foreign policy contributing to the 9/11 attack.

I haven’t had the time yet to listen to the full context of all the snippets that are being played over and over on the right wing radio an cable channel shows, but I plan to because I don’t want to arrive at any conclusion about anyone based on edited snippets. I guarantee you that I could put together a string of sound bites from any modern president or any contemporary preacher that would make them sound like enemies of the state. It’s so easy, it’s almost laughable. I used to produce taped programs and I could make anyone say whatever I wanted him or her to say with a razor blade. (Old fashioned editing. Before the digital age). I’ll give you an example. Say I was a newsman reporting on some political speech and describing an incident where "this nut jumps up and yells at the top of his voice - President Bush should be assassinated!" That’s now on tape and all you need do is edit out the bit about the nut who jumps up and says this stupid thing and you have the newsman advocating a presidential assassination.

The "Goddamn America" snippet by itself is particularly disturbing but could it be less disturbing if one listens to the context? I’ve listened and I believe it is less disturbing when you listen to what leads up to the comment and what comes after. Here’s a report on the sermon and hefty chunks of the written text by journalist Roland Martin - and there is a link to the audio version at the top of the page. Just click on it and then on the audio link just below. It’s a sermon that’s full of fire and brimstone and highly political - but the "Goddamn America" line seems to be a biblical exhortation rather than a secular curse. He’s talking about America’s record in its treatment of black citizens and of the state of the black community today and how God would think about it. He says - of the "goddamn" word, "it’s in the Bible" - and a few lines later, he says "Tell your neighbor he’s (going to) help us one last time. Turn back and say forgive him for the God Damn, that’s in the Bible though. Blessings and curses is in the Bible. It’s in the Bible."

The RWRAR’s - right wing ranters and ravers for those of you who are not regular readers of this blog, will continue to use the same snippets from Reverend Wright’s sermons right up to the Democratic convention - and likely beyond. But I predict it will not only lose steam but backfire when a number of things happen. One, when the full versions of the sermons are publicized and listened to on youtube and other sites. Two, when people of Martin Marty’s caliber who know Jeremiah Wright are interviewed or appear on national television programs And three, when a variety of Obama’s fellow parishioners come forward and explain how they relate to Trinity Church and how they view the messages of Wright’s sermons. If you scroll through the Roland Martin site linked above, you’ll see comments from someone familiar with Trinity who listens to services on the radio and who says that his daughter attended the church for years and never saw the Obama’s there - giving credence to his statement that he never heard the incendiary comments that are being broadcast in an endless loop. When she and others come forward and their voices are heard, a different pattern may emerge.

Barack Obama will be the Democratic candidate and unlike some others - even supporters - who think that his former pastor’s scary words s will derail him - I predict that it will be a non issue by the time we go to the polls in November. In fact, if the Obama people do the kind of job that I’m sure they’re capable of doing, white voters will finish up with a greater understanding of their fellow citizens of color - and may even get to like Jeremiah Wright!!