Unconvinced by Obama’s Wright Speech
By: Edward I. Koch
Barack Obama’s speech last week addressing his 20-year relationship with his radical pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was very well done, yet unconvincing.
Obama sought to explain that relationship and why he could not end this close association, despite the minister's hate-filled rhetoric. He said, “There will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Rev. Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church?”
Yes, those are the questions that people are asking.
Many of Rev. Wright’s incendiary statements are on videos sold by his church. Minister Louis Farrakhan, a friend of Rev. Wright with whom he traveled to visit Muammar Qadaffi in Libya, also makes his sermons and those of others associated with the Nation of Islam available for sale. Their attacks on the U.S. and Israel often coincide with those of Rev. Wright.
Rev. Wright’s sermons charge that the U.S. government gives African-Americans drugs, created AIDS, and is deliberately infecting blacks with that disease. His sermons claim that the U.S. unjustifiably nuclear bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, and that 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 Americans were caused by U.S. foreign policy.
He alleges Israeli state terrorism against the Palestinians; calling Israel a “dirty word” and “racist country.” He blames Israel for 9/11 and supports the divestment campaign against it, denouncing “Zionism.” His venomous thoughts are summed up in his most discussed sermon in which he says the U.S. government “wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, not God Bless America. God damn America. God damn America for killing innocent people.”
Sen. Obama in his speech acknowledged that the rantings of his minister are “inexcusable,” but stated, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
Before we discuss his grandmother, let’s examine the impact of Rev. Wright’s statements on the senator’s two daughters. Nothing says it better than a song from the musical “South Pacific,” to wit, “You have to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be carefully taught.” Few dispute that Rev. Wright’s sermons are filled with hate. Why didn’t Obama stand up in the church and denounce his hateful statements or, at the very least, argue privately with his minister? It was horrifying to see on a video now viewed across America the congregation rise from the pews to applaud their minister’s rants.
Now to Obama’s grandmother. There was a time spanning the 70’s to the mid-90s when many blacks and whites in large American cities expressed the same feelings on street crime held by Obama’s grandmother. Indeed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson made similar comments in 1993 at a meeting of his organization, Operation Push, devoted to street crime. According to a Nov. 29, 1993, article in the Chicago Sun Times, he said, “’We must face the No. 1 critical issue of our day. It is youth crime in general and black-on-black crime in particular.’ Then Jackson told the audience, ‘There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved . . . After all we have been through,’ he said. ‘Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets, how humiliating.’”
Isn’t that exactly what Obama’s grandmother was referring to? To equate her fears, similar to Jesse Jackson’s, with Wright’s anti-American, anti-white, anti-Jew, and anti-Israel rantings is despicable coming from a grandson. In today’s vernacular, he threw her under the wheels of the bus to keep his presidential campaign rolling. For shame.
What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a president of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America — foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric.
Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.
It is also disturbing to me that Obama’s wife, Michelle, during a speech in Wisconsin last month, said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”
Strange. This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given. When she entered Princeton and Harvard and later became a partner in a prestigious law firm, didn’t she feel proud to be an American?
When she and the senator bought their new home, was there no feeling of accomplishment and pride in being a U.S. citizen? When her husband was elected to the state legislature and subsequently to the United States Senate, didn’t she feel proud of her country?
Obama was asked if he thought his speech changed any minds. He replied he didn’t think so, and certainly not of those who weren’t already for him. A more important question is, whether his 20-year relationship with Wright has done lasting damage to his candidacy.
We will soon know.
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