Wright’s rants raise troubling questions

News flash!

Illinois Sen. Barak Obama, until lately the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, isn’t all black.

He’s only half black, the other half being as white as Hillary Clinton’s naked butt. (The simile is pure conjecture, of course.)

At any rate, this genetic fact was pretty much downplayed by Obama as well as the media — “He’s running a campaign that transcends race,” pundits would say — until a recent speech in which he made a rather lame attempt to defend his membership in a Chicago church whose mostly darkskinned congregation regularly cheered racist rants denigrating palefaces and other inane diatribes against the evil federal government by their pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who just retired after serving his followers such bilious stews for 30 years.

Attempting to draw a parallel between the pastor and his pastyskinned forebearers, Obama pointed out his white grandmother, who along with his white mother raised him after they were abandoned by his Kenyan father, had also expressed some stereotypical racist views, such as fearing for her safety when she passed a black man on the street. But that didn’t make her a bad person, he assured us. (He later called her fear reaction “typical” of white people, although how he determined this is a mystery.)

Wright, a seething cauldron of indignation, reaped well more than his 15 minutes of fame when video clips of his raging vitriol were widely circulated on TV and the Internet last month. He has accused the government of inventing the HIV virus to wipe out this country’s black population and has pronounced the destruction of the World Trade Center a justifiable attack on rich white people — calling it, as Malcolm X did of President John Kennedy’s assassination — “chickens coming home to roost.”

Although he claims to be a Christian, Wright ignores Jesus’s core teachings, such as loving your enemies, turning the other cheek and treating others as you wish to be treated — just as many of the right-wing fundamentalist preachers on the opposite end of the political spectrum also ignore them. Still, his fiery oratory has proven quite popular with his flock, which over the 20 years the Obama family attended had grown from a few hundred to several thousand members. (“Goddamn America! Goddamn America!” drew enthusiastic right-ons from the crowded pews when he screamed that markedly unChristian sentiment from his bully pulpit.)

In an attempt at damage control once Wright’s ravings became broadly disseminated, Obama delivered a serious, lengthy analysis of this country’s race relations that made numerous good points, but failed to answer a crucial point.

Even though he heartily denounced Wright’s poisonous rhetoric, Obama failed to explain why he found the pastor so attractive he would have him conduct his marriage, baptize his kids and draw him regularly to Sunday services where, he reluctantly admitted, he heard but did not agree with all the content of such “sermons.” In fact, he has named Wright as the inspiration for his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope,” the title of which was taken from one of Wright’s screeds.

Wright’s attributes, or lack of them, are hardly the point, though. He is only one of many alleged ministers of the gospel who have used resentment and prejudice to make a good living by telling like-minded people what they wanted to hear — that other groups of people are evil-doers and largely to blame for everything wrong in the world.

The larger question is why Obama chose to remain a member of a church where not only the pastor, but more importantly the congregation, displayed such hostility to the majority of this country’s citizens (Wright included Italians and Jews among his specific ethnic villians), and to expose his children to such venomous pap.

One theory is that Obama wanted to establish his bona fides with the larger African-American community, to put to rest suspicions that a man who was reared in Kansas and attended Harvard law school (edited the school’s legal journal, in fact) wasn’t quite “black” enough to appeal to the “typical” darkskinned voter who hadn’t gone to the best schools and had nearly endless opportunities.

Perhaps so. I certainly do not believe Obama subscribes to his soul brother’s wacky views of the world (although many of them contain kernels of truth, as do most conspiracy theories that have broad appeal to whatever groups feel their lives and freedoms are being threatened by some secret agenda of the government. The black helicopters are coming! The U.N. is preparing deterrment camps!)

But Obama can’t, if he still plans to win not just the nomination but the presidency, let this matter drop and hope it will go away, because it won’t. The right-wing allegedly Christian groups and the neo-Swift Boaters will see to that, should he prevail in Denver this summer. And you can bet the farm Wright’s video bites would be part of some 527 group’s commercials during the general-election campaign.

I truly admire Obama for attempting to run a campaign that focused on issues more than skin tone, but things have gotten way past that now, and a lot of white voters are wanting a fuller explanation. And equating an old woman who feared for her safety to a hate-spewing preacher whom he chose to be his personal spiritual guide just won’t get the job done.

I had eagerly anticipated voting for Obama (even if he is only half black) and having him as president. Although he is not as liberal in his views as I, his heart is in the right place and he is very smart and persuasive.

Beyond that, electing our first black president would affirm my belief that America has come a long way since the days of my youth, when blacks were still lynched and civil-rights workers killed in the segregated South, when blacks weren’t allowed to use the same public bathrooms and water fountains or eat at the same lunch counters as their white former masters, when blacks were relegated to second-class neighborhoods and denied equal opportunities in many ways all over the country. (Not to say that some of this still doesn’t go on, of course.)

But preaching widespread hatred of any people doesn’t further the cause of peace and harmony in this world.

At any rate, unless Obama more adequately answers voters’ growing doubts about his unwavering loyalty to an avowed black separatist and the church he led, both of us may still be waiting for that welcome sign of change come November.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez, Colo.

From April 2008, David Long.