Rev. Wright in perspective
Paul Jay speaks to Davey D
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Davey, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments have sparked, using Obama’s word, a firestorm of reaction in the media, amongst the political pundits. On Sunday morning talk shows, it was defined as a defining moment in Obama’s candidacy. If he didn’t deal with this properly, his candidacy might come to an end. In fact, here’s a couple of the pundits speaking here:
REPORTER: The Clinton camp hopes super-delegates will take a look at Obama’s problems, especially controversial remarks by his former pastor.
BILL O’REILLY, TV HOST: Barack Obama’s preacher is on the record saying a number of very troubling anti-American things.
BERNARD GOLDBERG, FOX NEWS ANALYST: This minister talks about how blacks shouldn’t sing “God Bless America” but “God Damn America,” implies that 9/11 is our fault, says all these other things about how the government is selling drugs to black people just to put them in jail.
MAN 2: But what is going on here all of a sudden? This was a pretty good campaign up until the last couple of weeks, governor.
DEVAL PATRICK, MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR (D): Well, I guess I would caution everybody to remember who is and who is not the candidate.
WOMAN: I mean, I’ve known Jeremiah Wright, and actually Jeremiah Wright is one of the more moderate black preachers. Just go to a church down the street from my house, and I see women coming with their hats on the other side of their head, because they have been lifted up. But the truth is is that they should have prepared for this moment. And I think he did. That’s why he went out on Friday night, that’s why he addressed it yesterday in Indiana, and that’s why I think, now that it’s on the table, he’s not the only one that should speak up. The Republicans have an obligation to speak up as well as Democrats.
So, Davey, there are really two main themes to Reverend Wright’s comments. One had to do with US foreign policy, and one had to do with the conditions of African-Americans in the United States. So let’s start with his comment on foreign policy.
September 16, 2001
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.
What do you think, first of all, of what Rev. Wright said? And does that reflect a broad opinion amongst African-Americans?
DAVEY D: The way that you have to look at this question is you’ve got to ask yourself: who the heck are these pundits? I’m a talk show host. I’ve been around for twenty years. I have a lot of colleagues that look like me, come from a similar background, that are also pundits. “Are we at this round table when we have these discussions?” should be the first question that comes to mind. If the pundits are limited to the Bill O’Reillys, the Sean Hannitys, and the Fox News crowd, then of course you’re going to have a firestorm, because their viewpoints are usually put out there without any sort of fair opposition dealing with the actual substance, which essentially is the chickens coming home to roost. That is not an uncommon thought, and it’s not limited to the African-American community.
JAY: Let me play for you what Obama said in his speech on this question of US foreign policy and Rev. Wright’s comments.
BARACK OBAMA, US SENATOR (D-IL): They expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America, a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
So, in other words, the Israeli occupation is not a source of the problem, or US foreign policy in the region is not a source of the problem, but only radical, perverse Islam is the source of the problem. And I’m wondering what you think of him taking such a position.
DAVEY D: Well, first of all, I think that particular remark in quotation is something that would go over the average person’s head in America that was listening to that speech. With that being said, and focusing more now on the comments about the Middle East, it’s one that many of us, including myself, disagree with. If the fodder for the debate that has been taking place for decades—do we put the blame on Zionism? Do we put the blame on Israel? Or do we put it on Islam and the Palestinians? That’s what the conflict is about on many levels. And so if Barack sees it as one way and I see it as another way, then that is the opportunity to have that discussion. That’s where we’re at, and that’s where it should continue.
WRIGHT (2003): The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America?” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America,” God damn America—that’s in the Bible—for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.
OBAMA: The profound mistake of Rev. Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society; it’s that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress had been made, as if this country, a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land—. What we know, what we have seen, is that America can change? That is the true genius of this nation.
Rev. Wright essentially is saying these problems are systemic. I think Obama acknowledges that, but he’s suggesting that he’s not so pessimistic or angry. What do you think of how Obama handled Wright’s positions on these questions?
DAVEY D: Rev. Wright speaks to a large body of African-Americans. He comes from a tradition that has given voice to the voiceless. And I think when he spoke to that, it’s something that resonated with a lot of people who are able to look out their window and say, you know, “There are some things that I need to be responsible for, but I am overwhelmed with a situation and a system that has targeted me and seems committed to keeping me permanently in a state of distress. At the same time, Barack is looking at a lot of people who are trying to move forward and want to do their best to get rid of racism. And that needs to be acknowledged. And I think Obama’s speaks to that spirit in that crowd of people; both men are right from the perspectives in which they sit, and I think ideally you’re going to have a marriage of both.
JAY: Do you think that in the African-American community, how will this speech be received? Does it feel like he’s risen to the occasion? Or does he feel like he’s sort of conciliating in some ways to the American right?
DAVEY D: Well, the people that I roll with, and they range from rabble rousers who were kicking up dust and continue to kick up dust in New Orleans, to Muslims, members of the Nation of Islam, to people who consider themselves progressive to, you know, folks who have questionable backgrounds. The consensus that I got was a home run. I think overall people felt like he did a good job, he rose to the occasion, considering the playing field. That’s one thing. The second thing too, in terms of listening to Jeremiah Wright and understanding how people speak, you have white preachers say similar things all the time, and it doesn’t come under criticism, because most people understand that in the context of being a spiritual person, in a context of answering to God and not to a man, that these things are permissible, these things are acceptable, and to be expected when you’re speaking from that backdrop. And so to isolate Rev. Wright’s words and act like this is something new under the sun is disingenuous for those who have gone to church, and it’s just outright manipulative from those who just chose to show that portion of the speech.
JAY: But I think the issue’s more specific. It was that statement, “God damn America.” Doesn’t that need to be taken on? Because that’s precisely the kind of rhetoric John McCain’s going to use against him. It is the patriotic card. And Obama chose not to deconstruct what that meant. He just denounced it, this “God damn America.” He didn’t put that into context himself. He just rejected it.
DAVEY D: McCain has had supporters who, when you look at their religious background and the things that they support, you can find a lot of things that you might find offensive. If you want to start searching the backdrop and the background of anybody who supports a particular candidate, whether they’re a pastor, whether they’re an artist, or whether they’re just somebody who happens to have high visibility, you can find some things that you can pull out, put in front of the world, and say, “Hey, see? This guy says this,” and use that as the litmus test. I think it would be unwise for McCain to do that. I can’t really see him doing that, because I think it should be quite clear and quite evident to anybody that has followed Obama’s campaign, he’s been very consistent in what he stands for and what he’s about, even if some other people that he disagrees with, either on their policies or just in a general way of presenting themselves, support him.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.