Monday Morning, May 5, 2008
This morning, as we anticipate the telling returns from the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, I will once again stick my verbal toe in the political waters. Some will conclude that I am a card carrying Democrat and Obama supporter. I am not.
It’s been eight weeks since I wrote an “Open Letter to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.” It’s hard to believe what’s happened since. It had little to do with my letter (ha!), which, I might add, is the second most read of my Monday morning essays (the first, inexplicably, is Into the Wild). But few would disagree, the Wright issue has come to dominate the news in stunning proportion. I suggested back on March 17 that the Reverend had his fifteen minutes of Andy Warhol fame. Fifteen minutes? Would that it had been so.
I submitted a copy of my essay to Dr. Wright via the church website that week. I wondered if somehow I might get a reply. I did not. I’ve watched for some indication that maybe it got read. When Wright booked an appearance with Bill Moyers, I set the DVR and watched. Then, thanks to Internet on-demand video, I watched his performance before the National Press Club, too. After the first, I thought maybe the prayer I referenced in my open letter might be answered. After the second, I realized fully, it had not.
I guess you would say I prayed for a conciliatory Wright. Instead, we got a strident Wright. He lectured us like an Urban Sunday School class on the fundamentals of Black Liberation Theology, rehearsing the litany atrocities and the injustice of it all and then with a hand-picked collection of boisterous supporters in the cheering section drawing him out, he reaffirmed all those sound-bites looped twenty-four/seven on all those conservative talk shows and news reports, just in case some of us thought he had been misunderstood, or perhaps changed his mind. Bob Herbert, NY Times editorialist put it this way: “He’s living a narcissist’s dream.”
So it has been well established. The anti-Obama crowd pounced on the YouTube videos like an obsessed Prosecutor on a piece of irrefutable evidence. You couldn’t tune in to a conservative radio talk show for five minutes without hearing Wright’s raspy voice in full shout mode calling down God’s wrath on America and summoning the chickens home to roost. It went on for weeks. Wright made these statements once from the pulpit as the dust was settling over the ruins at Ground Zero in 2001, but it’s been replayed thousands and thousands of times in the past eight weeks, just in case you missed it.
Preachers say the darndest things. In the safety of their own sanctuaries, pastors enjoy a degree of freedom to toy with the outrageous. People well know the biblical warnings about going after God’s anointed. So it goes right on by. People the pews love it, truth be told.
The media, on the other hand, doesn’t worry much about divine retribution over exposing outrageous pastor-talk. Ask Falwell. Or Robertson. Or Oral Roberts. Or James Dobson, for that matter. If a comment can be construed as extreme and unacceptable, it will get headline attention.
So, I’m left to wonder what’s really driving this political Tsunami, this unrelenting, overwhelming, overpowering all-consuming wave of concern over the issue labeled “The Pastor Wright Problem”?
When Clarence Thomas stood in 1991 before the Senate subcommittee, his opponents obsessed over some inappropriate comments he made to a female subordinate, in a moment of righteous indignation, he shocked the committee and the nation by calling the entire proceeding a “high tech lynching.” Somehow, they knew what he meant. People who flat did not want a black justice sitting on the highest court in the land found an issue, no matter what his qualifications. (He was confirmed, by the way.)
Peggy Noonan said it well in the Wall Street Journal. She’s heard Rev. Wright’s rants. She simply does not share the (sometimes feigned) outrage of much of the nation. She said, “Hatred plays itself out, has power in the short-term but is non-sustaining in the long. America, and this is one of its glories, has a conscience to which an appeal can be made. It may take a long time, it may take centuries, but in the end we try hard to do the right thing, and everyone knows it. Hatred is a form of energy that does not fuel this machine and cannot make it run.”
On this Monday morning, as a leader, you and I sort through the noise. We are looking for the truth. We consider where we will align ourselves in the marketplace of ideas. We all agree it is complicated.
I agree with Noonan – the Wright issue is the wrong issue. People once wondered if Obama was “black enough.” No one is asking that one anymore.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008