Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright issue overblown, but one Obama must confront on path to White House

Why is it that when conservative pundits gang up on the retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright for expressing the viewpoints of a segment of black America, their rhetoric is considered totally justified?

But when Wright uses a recent appearance before the National Press Club to defend himself (and actually makes a legitimate point about Vice President Dick Cheney’s lack of military service), the reverend gets accused of taking cheap shots.

COULD IT BE that the only people seriously offended by Wright’s views (which were expressed in the dialect common to many black-oriented churches in this country) are those people whose real hang-up is that he forces them to acknowledge that one of the legitimate candidates seeking the presidency is a black man?

Could it be that this country is being forced, against its will, to acknowledge its ugly racial past, of which some lingering tensions still exist?

What I find most ironic about all of this trash talk tying Wright to Barack Obama is that I can remember just a couple months ago when we, the people, of this glorious country, were giving serious credence to the concept that perhaps Obama “wasn’t black enough” and might not be able to take the black vote from opponent Hillary Clinton – whose husband, Bill, remains extremely popular among African-American people because he gives off the aura of a person who is willing to acknowledge their existence.

Sadly, that is what much of this all really comes down to.

PEOPLE WHO DO not want to hear about the racial situation and do not want to have it come up in this campaign are those who want to think of this country as some sort of Anglo-oriented place, where the ways derived from white people are the accepted norm – and others who just cannot or do not want to “fit in” to such a scheme are to be considered outsiders who ought to leave the country – even if they were born here.

Some people like to debate the concept of whether the United States is “ready” to elect a black man (or, for that matter, a bi-racial man such as Obama) as president.

By their way of thinking, time will cause the racial tensions of the past to ease to the point where some day we will be accepting of the concept that white America doesn’t hold some monopoly on the political sense necessary to oversee the operations of the United States government.

But if we wait for “them” to decide when the “time” has “arrived,” we might get a black U.S. president some time around the next millennium.

I HONESTLY BELIEVE there will be a black president of this country at some point in my lifetime (I’m 42 now). It may be Obama. It may be someone else.

But when that moment comes, we will have certain segments of U.S. society talking trash up through Election Day and beyond. They will claim “we’re” not ready (although I resent the thought of them including all of us in their “we”) for such a bold step.

The day the United States gets a black president is the day that the majority of the population comes to their senses and rams the concept down the throat of the vocal minority of the public that has a problem with the notion.

I honestly believe that the federal government in Washington will undergo something similar to what we in Chicago experienced during the mid-1980s. I’m talking about “Council Wars.”

PARTISAN LABELS WERE recast in racial terms, and a white majority of the council used its numbers to tie up many of the legislative desires of the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington. I could see a scenario in which a black president encounters an extremely outspoken Republican opposition, thereby giving rural Democrats (there are still a few) the courage to come out and publicly join ranks with the GOP in an ugly brawl that will be an embarrassment to this nation.

Suspecting that such a brawl would confront a “President Obama” (should he win on Nov. 4) is a large part of the reason why I do not get too upset about the nasty campaign tactics being used now by Hillary Clinton as she tries desperately to chip away at the significant lead Obama built up during that stretch a couple of months ago when he won 12 straight primary elections or caucuses.

We are best off seeing now how Obama will cope with ugliness, because it will give us a clue as to how a “President Obama” would address hostility coming from elements of our society who would go out of their way to think of him as some sort of “fraudulent” president – one more illegitimate than the most crazed liberal elements ever claimed George W. Bush to be.

If there is anything negative we can say about Obama, it is that he was naïve in the early days of the campaign when he tried claiming that his young age meant he was part of a generation that could ignore racial differences and could get us past the debate.

THAT DEBATE, AND ugly brawl, are something we will have to endure, because there is a good aspect to going through the mess.

Ultimately, seeing a black president (and realizing he will not drag this country down into an irreparable quagmire – if Bush couldn’t, no one can) in action is going to be what convinces the majority of us that a black man (or even a bi-racial one) can be president. Future African-American candidates will not have to deal with the same hostility, in part because Obama is taking the abuse now.

It is almost like John F. Kennedy, in a sense. Back some five decades ago, our society still thought of Catholics as some foreign element that had managed to overtake big cities, and had to be restrained from getting too much power in the federal government.

Now, a candidate’s Catholicism is a non-issue, and no one but the most ridiculous of racists would seriously try to claim that a Catholic president would take marching orders from the Pope.

WHEN I FIRST met Obama some 11 years ago, I realized he'd become somebody much more significant than a state legislator from Hyde Park. Ivy League-educated people with a social conscience and willingness to work at it usually do.

But I never thought he'd have the potential to become such a trailblazer. I wonder if he’s going to suffer in the same way Jackie Robinson did. Many people believe the stress of being “the first” black major league baseball player in modern times prematurely aged him – resulting in his death at age 52.

But to get there, we’re going to have to realize that a lot of the anti-Wright rhetoric being tossed out these days are not legitimate charges. They are desperate attempts by people with out-of-date racial hang-ups who are trying to thwart the concept of a black president.

We, the people (my favorite phrase from the Constitution) need to quit giving legitimacy to such charges, and allowing those people to set the agenda for political discussion. Only when we start doing that can we legitimately say our society is moving in the right direction towards putting its historic racial tensions truly in the past.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright did the D.C. scene ( as part of his attempt to fight back from some of the slanderous commentary that has been doled against him in recent weeks.

Wright built up his South Side church from 90 members into a congregation of thousands attracted (,8599,1735809,00.html) by his message that African-American people were as worthy as anyone else in our society.

An Israeli perspective on Wright and the race issue ( can be found here.

My recollections on the early days of Barack Obama’s career in electoral politics ( consist of a guy with a future, but not necessarily a political trailblazer.

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