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Did Wright Create Obama's "Where's the Beef" Moment?

March 15, 2008

For months, Hillary Clinton has been desperately trying to manufacture a defining moment that would crystallize voters' doubts about Barack Obama. That "Where's the Beef" moment may have come on Friday, not from Obama himself, but in the guise of his long-time pastor and spiritual adviser Jeremiah Wright. While Obama was quick to denounce Wright's histrionic sermons now available to all on video, the hateful words of the minister - and Obama's close relationship to him - may come to be viewed as a contradiction of the transcendent politics that forms the basis of his candidacy.
The Wright furor is so potentially damaging to Barack Obama precisely because it undermines perhaps the greatest source of his appeal. The Obama brand has come to represent an inspirational call for a post-racial America transcending group conflict and identity politics. Wright's diatribes about "rich white people," "U.S. of KKK-A," and "Hillary ain't never been called a n****r" are a shocking rejection of everything Obama claims to stand for. For many Americans outside the reliable right, his 20 year association with Wright may call into question Obama's lofty pleas for national unity.
Exacerbating matters further is Wright's perfect fit with the emerging conservative narrative that Barack Obama represents incarnate the stereotypical "hate America" liberal. This is not merely a matter of ham-handed reactionaries like Iowa's Steve King perpetuating the Muslim myth of "Barack Hussein Obama." (That myth, by the way, is now accepted as fact by 13% of Americans.) The right-wing caricature is far more comprehensive. Here, Michelle Obama did her husband no favors with her February statement, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." And to be sure, Pastor Wright supplied ammunition to the right-wing message machine with his angry words, "God Damn America."
And then there is matter of "judgment," a cornerstone theme of the Obama campaign. Obama has deflected Hillary Clinton's attacks on his national security credentials by citing his superior judgment in opposing the Iraq war from its inception. In his eloquent statement Friday, Obama was certainly right to "reject and denounce" the hateful words of his minister:

"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."

But over the years of their association, Obama never broke from the man or his church. (It is almost certainly too late to do so now.) Obama is surely wrong that a minister is not a "member of the family" or a crazy "old uncle" whom one cannot disown. No matter the impact of his uplifting social gospel or his continuous contributions to the community, Wright's words are beyond the pale. They are simply irredeemable. While Barack Obama may not have heard them all until now, he no doubt heard some. And yet he stayed on at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Which is why Obama's faith-based follies will be seen as differing in degree and kind from the recent evangelical endorsements of John McCain. Of course, the End Times Pastor John Hagee and Reverend Rod Parsley deserve media scrutiny and the opprobrium that should ensue. Hagee, after all, called the Catholic Church "the great whore" and "a false cult system", all the while hoping to accelerate Armageddon in an "end of days" conflict with Iran. And the anti-gay crusader Parsley, whom McCain at a Cincinnati rally labeled a "spiritual guide," played a key role in the 2004 campaign in Ohio while claiming "America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed."
Needless to say, Hagee and Parsley do matter. Not so much for suggesting John McCain's latent bigotry than shining a bright light on his blatant opportunism. Adopting men he once deemed "agents of intolerance" as political allies, McCain has added them to a growing list of reversals that includes his positions on tax cuts, overturning Roe v. Wade and so many more. The untold story of McCain '08 is the transformation of a supposed political maverick into indisputable political prostitute.
Yet, Barack Obama is destined to lose the PR war over the madman ministers. Hagee and Parsley are radical, angry men who preach hate towards many of their fellow Americans. But in the conservative-dominated media narrative to come, they will not be portrayed as "hating America." That will be applied to Jeremiah Wright alone, the man who presided at Obama's wedding and the baptism of his children.
On Friday, Barack Obama acknowledged as much. He told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann that should he be the nominee, he fully expects a barrage of ads from the litany of right-wing 527 activist groups featuring the incendiary Wright. Obama asked Americans not to reject his presidential campaign because of "guilt by association." And in the aftermath of the Ferraro episode, Clinton adviser Lanny Davis was willing to give Obama "the benefit of the doubt," arguing "we should stop this guilt-by-association thing, because some of our supporters say stupid things."
But that association may yet determine how many Americans evaluate Obama's fidelity to his oft-repeated vision for the nation. In 1984, Gary Hart's campaign never escaped the impact of Walter Mondale's "Where's the Beef" taunt. In 2008, we can only hope Wright's "God Damn America" rant doesn't become the epitaph for Barack Obama's.

3 comments on “Did Wright Create Obama's "Where's the Beef" Moment?”

  1. As one who is a minister, I do find it strange that Barack should be held responsible for his pastor's words. I have heard Wright speak to our minister's group. He is actually a highly educated man with insight into the nature of our country's problems with race. But he is also angry and speaks at times unwisely because of that anger.
    Still, if association were the key for or against qualification for Presidency, think of those associations of almost every other politician, including family. Think of JFK's connection to his father, that old isolationist. Or think of Hillary's connection to Bill, whom she supported when he lied to the American people. Or think of McCain's association with Bush, one who lied to get us into an immoral and illegal war.
    Best that we look at Barack's statements and forget that of others, even those closest to him, unless they speak for him in some way. It would be a shame if we lost this one chance in our history to have a remarkable man such as Barack to lead our nation.

  2. Getting yourself pastored by a radical hater shows bad judgment. Lying about it when asked by the media shows dishonesty. Request for presidency denied.

  3. True, some of Reverend Wright's statements can be considered "over the top," one should try to understand the uniqueness of the Black experience, while living in this nation. If any non-Black individual could imagine the life in this country as a Black person, one would be hardpressed not to speak out against the subtle racisim, not to mention the overt and outright racisim.
    I am a 67 year old Black man,who loves my country,even spent years serving my nation proudly in uniform, even in the face of open hostility, while in uniform. I have ALWAYS said that America is the GREATEST NATION in the world, but She has problems that must and should be resolved, before ALL citizens enjoy the "created equal" part of our national conscience.
    Until one experiences the many ways that racism rears it's ugly head, for just being born Black, you cannot understand the feeling of hopelessness most Blacks endure on a daily basis. Because of my surname, I have been able to enter into jobs,and other venues, because no-one expected someone named Whittenberg, to be a Black man.
    A prime example was my experience in the Air Force. I graduated from the Weather Observer Technical School at the top of my class. Having the opportunity to choose my first assignment, I chose Patrick AFB in Florida, where this unit was giving support to the missle range at Cape Canaveral. Thinking that I would be able to gain exceptional experience by being a part of this unit, I arrived there in November,1960. When I reported for duty, the Chief Observer, (the equivlant to the 1st Sgt)took one look at me, and asked, "Boy, are you sure you're in the right outfit?"
    First day, orders in hand,with plenty of notice, this is how I was greeted!! But that was just the beginning of how being Black affects one's life.
    Just one more incident to show the injustices I faced as a member of the military. Upon graduation from tech school, there is an exam one must pass to be promoted, as well as being qualified to supervise others. I took the exam with 9 of my peers, I was the ONLY ONE to pass the exam, yet I was the ONLY ONE that was NOT PROMOTED!! I had to supervise airmen that outranked me, because I was the only one that had the required skill level to do so!!
    I'm just sharing this incident just to give some insight into the problems Black people face, even though many of us "seem" to have been successful, according to the educational and social achievements we have made. One can't but feel being "tolerated," especially when one can detect the uneasiness of the members of the dominant class/race. We have to have a thick skin, to tolerate the "OOOPS" moments, as well as the deliberate attempts to "Put us in our place."
    After a lifetime of living in these conditions, it's a wonder that more Blacks don't literally explode. We are a people of great resolve, restraint, and adaptation, without thse qualities, coupled with our fervent belief in God, we would have died out within 3 generations.
    Yes, Rev. Wright was out of place, as well as incorrect with some of his statements,and Icondem these statements as divisive as well as inflammatory. But if one could experience life in ths country in the body and soul of a Black person, I would venture to say that your perspective would be quite different. So much of what the majority considers to be the truth of America, would have a hard time recognizing the country in which they live.
    Again, I LOVE my country, warts and all, but there are issues we MUST resolve, before we tear apart the very thing that makes us great and powerful. Let's try to make WE THE PEOPLE a reality, not just a bumper sticker slogan.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!! We need ALL the help we can get!!!


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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