Tuesday, April 29, 2008


"And then I've got to give a special shout out to my Pastor. The guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend and a great leader not just in Chicago but all across the country, so please everybody give an extraordinary welcome to my pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Trinity United Church of Christ."
-Senator Obama June 5th, 2007

Sister Souljah
OK Reverend Wright's pronouncements on the US, white people, and general goofy conspiracy theories have gotten so damaging to Senator Obama's campaign that he has issued a statement utterly rejecting them and claiming “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.”

Will it work? I suspect the legacy media will drop the whole thing now, that's good enough for them to not mention reverend Wright, or Bill Ayers, or the communist webmaster of Senator Obama's official blog, for that matter. And likely the next radical to show up coincidentally in Obama's past totally unrelated to what he believes in or stands for. I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, but you know after the fifth or sixth white supremacist that shows up in someone's past as an associate or "close personal friend" you have to wonder... maybe this guy is telling us something with the people he continually surrounds himself by.

In any case, people are already comparing this speech to President Clinton's Sister Souljah denouncement. For those who don't know about this or remember it, Sister Souljah was a female rapper in the early 1990s who said in an interview "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" in defense of the LA riots. It was fine: killing white people is reasonable!

A few weeks later at a Rainbow Coalition speech, President Clinton responded with these words:
"If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech"
At the time, many people took that as a triumphant, centrist viewpoint. That he was clearly the choice of the majority of America: see, he's not an extremist like Reagan and Mondale and those! He's a new Democrat! People like me said "clever political move that doesn't harm him anywhere," and knew he was the kind of guy that would say whatever people most wanted to hear. History proved us right, but at the time it gave him a big boost in popularity, even if Sister Souljah called him a racist for it.

People are comparing Senator Obama's speech to the Sister Souljah moment, saying this is his time to show he's centrist and not associated with that radical racism and anti-American rhetoric.

The thing is, this isn't the same thing, it's not even remotely related, and there are three big reasons why:

First, President Clinton was not a rap fan. He had not, for twenty years, hung out with rappers who talked about killing white people. He had not recently talked about what a great person Sister Souljah was, he'd not called her his close friend or spiritual advisor. He didn't know this woman as far as I know. Senator Obama and Reverend Wright have had a close relationship and the Senator from Illinois has praised the Reverend repeatedly, he even took the theme of his campaign and title of his book from Reverend Wright's sermons. The two are not merely people prominent in the news concurrently, they are closely associated.

Second, President Clinton's statement came not in response to personal criticism or questions, but without prompting at an unrelated meeting with blacks. He chose to personally reject that sort of statement without prompting. Senator Obama's statement was in response to personal questions directed at him repeatedly.

Third, President Clinton's statement was in June, Sister Souljah's interview came out in May. Senator Obama has been questioned and asked about and scrutinized about the relationship with Reverend Wright since last year in a Chicago newspaper. He took this long to respond, and only after weeks of pressure and months of scrutiny.

I can't read Senator Obama's mind, so I can't say if this speech was an honest repudiation of Reverend Wright's kooky hate or not. Reverend Wright thinks he's just saying this stuff because he has to politically, not because he really means it.
“He’s a politician, I’m a pastor,” he said. “We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they’re two different worlds.”

He added, “I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”
Yet even if he means what he says sincerely, this is not a Sister Souljah Moment for Senator Obama because it won't reach out to the middle and assure them he's not a radical. It will assure them he's a politician of the stripe he's been campaigning about being different from. The kind of guy who says what it takes to be elected, who tosses friends out on their ear if they are a problem, who uses people to get what he wants then moves on. The moderates of America won't be attracted by this move.

Maybe if Senator Obama had immediately and clearly made these statements months ago, he could have had a chance. Instead he supported the man, claimed he'd not heard anything controversial, then when confronted with the fact that he had, ducked reporters, left press conferences early, complained about debates being mean to him, and finally said "well I don't care for it either."
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