In the Arena


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Woe is me. I am set upon by harpies, from the center, the right and the Weh-right. The saddest of these is Lanny Davis’s act of Clintonphilia in the Wall Street Journal, which may set a land-speed record for disingenuousness. The subject again is the infamous Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Third paragraph:

Clearly Mr. Obama does not share the extremist views of Rev. Wright. He is a tolerant and honorable person. But

Gotta love those buts

that is not the issue. The questions remain: Why did he stay a member of the congregation? Why didn’t he speak up earlier? And why did he reward Rev. Wright with a campaign position even after knowing of his comments?

As I said, disingenuous. Let’s continue this below the fold

Let’s start with the fact that Obama unequivocally renounced Wright’s sentiments in his Philadelphia speech, but he refused to renounce the man or the church. As Swampland readers know, I don’t have much use for Wright or the hate-filled garbage he spewed from the pulpit. But Obama’s unwillingness to renounce Wright the Man and the spiritual community of the church seems to me an understandable personal, rather than a polticial decision on Obama’s part. For one thing, we’ve seen the Wright highlights–but it’s the equivalent of an web gems reel on Baseball Tonight. We don’t know how often Wright said “God Damn America.” We don’t know how often Obama went to church. (Not too frequently is my guess.) We also don’t know how often Reverend Wright exhorted the black men in the church to be responsible fathers, or the teenagers to study hard and stay away from drugs. Given the priorities of most black churches, I could probably put together a Jeremiah Wright highlight reel that would make William Bennett collapse with joy.

So what is actually going on here? If Davis is sure that “Mr. Obama does not share the extremist views of Rev. Wright,” then what’s the big deal? Uh, Politics. Davis is trying to make sure that white people in Pennsylvania don’t forget that Obama’s former pastor has said some awful things about our country. This, sadly, has been standard operating procedure for Republican spinmeisters throughout that party’s ascent and descent over the past 40 years. (Which is why I thought Obama should address his “patriotism problem” as a tactical move, not because–sorry, Fred Barnes and Hugh Hewitt–I believed he was in any way unpatriotic.)

Which brings me to Pete Wehner’s elaborate takedown of all things me. This is a dispute between old friends and such things can get very messy when taken public. Pete never tires of trotting out my stumbling, reluctant–and one-time–lapse into support for the Iraq war as evidence of my hypocrisy, as if any sane human wouldn’t have changed his or her opinion about that bloody enterprise given the subsequent events. But what really gets Pete’s goat is this statement:

But in these last, raggedy days of the rightward pendulum swing, with Republicans clogging the jails and Bushian foolishness having demoralized the nation, it is risible for conservatives to even pretend to care about “national improvement.” In our lives, we have seen conservatives use racism as a political tool, war as a witless quest for domination, patriotism as a scourge, government as an instrument of greed, religion and “morality” as camouflage for spreading fear, ignorance and bigotry.

I probably should have annoted that. I could have started with RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman’s apology to
black Americans for the G.O.P.’s use of race prejudice to build a governing majority in the South. Probably wouldn’t have had much trouble scaring up the appropriate clips to demonstrate the rest of the statement.

And in fact, the flagrant campaign proceeding against Obama right now, reeking of race and patriotism, is the latest, nauseating example of a 40-year trend. It is, as I said, very sad that the Clinton campaign would have anything to do with spreading this sort of innuendo…and entirely predictable that the Republican Party would. When I talked about “spreading the poison” that’s what I meant: a purposeful distraction from what should be real issues in this campaign–two wars, serious economic problems, the need to shift to alternative energy sources for national security and environmental reasons. On his radio show last week, Hugh Hewitt disagreed with me that those were the real issues. He made his agenda clear: Obama’s positions on Jeremiah Wright, gun control and homosexuality were what mattered to “real” Americans. Now that’s cynicism, of the rankest sort. Let’s hope it’s not the election we get.