Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Most people have focused on the political effects of Obama's connection with Wright. And those are significant. Obama, the candidate of racial unity and racial transcendence has as his spiritual adviser an apparent biggot and America hater. That just might sink Obama.
But that is not my question. Rather, should people continue to support Obama? Should decent people, who are genuinely committed to nondiscrimination and the public good, support a man who has the likes of Wright as his spiritual adviser?
Now, I am sure that some people will regard the question as mad. Guilt by association. So long as Obama does not believe these things -- which of course we supposedly know he does not -- why should it matter what Wright believes?
This point is not without some force. But how much force? Imagine the reverse case. A conservative candidate turns out to have as his spiritual adviser -- who both marries him and baptizes his two daughters -- a man who is a member of the KKK or at least utters many of the sentiments of that group. It seems clear that many Obama supporters would believe that anyone who supported the candidate was disreputable.
But would they be right? The best way to think about it is to imagine that you support a candidate and then discover that he has this close connection with someone of hateful views.
Obviously, the initial temptation is to dismiss the connection, and to explain it in some way that leaves your candidate respectable. But how to do so, when the connection is as close as Obama's was with Wright?
There are a couple of possibilities here. First, the connection may show that the candidate himself secretly holds the despised views. Second, the connection may show that the candidate does not regard the despised views as all that despicable. He doesn't agree with them, but he is not repelled by them. Third, the connection may show that the candidate despised the views, but nonetheless found an even greater benefit from the connection.
I am going to assume that Obama does not hold the despised views, if only because so few people do and there is no other evidence to suggest it. But the other two possibilities cannot be so easily dismissed.
It is hard not to conclude that the Obama is not repelled by the despised view. How else could he continue this close relationship with Wright? If one reaches this conclusion, it is a serious matter. At the least, it shows a callousness as well as a willingness to tolerate hateful stuff. Not good qualities for a President, not to mention for the moral leader that some regard Obama as.
It is also possible that the third possibility holds -- Obama gained so much from the connection with Wright that he was willing to maintain the association. Matthew Yglesias writes that "before Obama was a half-black guy running in a mostly white country he was a half-white guy running in a mostly black neighborhood. At that time, associating with a very large, influential, local church with black nationalist overtones was a clear political asset." This could be. But it suggests that Obama was willing to associate with the disreputable for political advantage.
In the end, my guess is that the truth is probably a combination of two and three. Is it disqualifying? I am not sure. If one believed that Obama really had great views and great talent, then one might not believe it disqualified him. Still, one could hardly have the same respect for the guy. You would have to support him, holding your nose a bit, not as a great moral leader who somehow represents a new kind of politics. Obama speaks very well, but let us not confuse substance and form.