Patriotism and Race–Obama Disowns Wright

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Part one of our latest interview with Prof. Dwight Hopkins, a member of Chicago’s Trinity Church. We discuss the church�s reaction to the Obama-Wright controversy and their contending visions of patriotism, race and America’s role in the world.

Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama saw to distance himself on Tuesday from his Pastor Jeremiah Wright.

(CLIP BEGINS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT, SENIOR PASTOR, THE TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: This most recent attack on the black church–its not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It is an attack on the black church.

(CLIP ENDS)

VOICE OF NKWETA: The Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay spoke to the member of The Trinity United Church Professor Dwight Hopkins from the University of Chicago.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Reverend Hopkins, the airwaves are filled with interviews about Reverend Wright and Senator Obama and one of the things I�m hearing from the African-American communities and people within the church is that the real issue here is the difference in roles that Reverend Wright is a prophet, is a minister within a tradition of a church which is sometimes very dramatic in the way it presents things. Senator Obama is a politician and its being kind of an issue, a difference of process but it seems to me the issue; the difference is far more substantive. Its really an issue how you see America whether its sacrilegious to question America�s role in the world; to raise the issue that the questions of 9/11 and US foreign policy might be connected with each other. The whole vision of patriotism that somehow if you are not first and foremost a patriot you�re then some kind of a traitor and Wright has questioned some of these assumptions. Obama certainly has not and there really is a difference of substance here. So, do you agree with that and what do you make of that difference?

PROF. DWIGHT N. HOPKINS, DIVINITY SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Well, I think the Obama-Wright controversy really expresses two different perspectives on America. It represents two different professions, vocations of two different men. I think you correctly point out obviously Senator Obama feels called or moved to run for President of United States to represent all of America and that�s a political track and on the other hand Reverend Wright feels moved or called to represent Christianity and the Christian faith.

JAY: What actually, I�m doing is challenging that idea that in fact there really is different fundamental beliefs between the two men�its not just a difference of what role they�ve chosen to play.

HOPKINS: Right, well, I think, part of the differences in their perspectives on America if not the world is because they come out of different backgrounds. For example, Reverend Wright lived through what McCarthy period; civil rights movement; black power movement; anti-war movement. You know, his parents go back several general generations in Philadelphia in the North; and Senator Obama is more or less new to the political and historical scene in America. His father is an immigrant from Kenya and he brings that tradition. His mother is a white woman from Kansas, Middle America, so she brings that tradition. Their family background, their educational background, their cultural background, what states they grew up in, who was part of the black community, who was not part of the black community. All those things are the basis for the substances of difference.

JAY: How does the congregation then feel about the most recent comments of Senator Obama that really repudiate Wright in a kind of a fundamental way more or less cutting off ties is what we�ve been told. So, is he not really cutting off ties with what Wright stands for and isn�t that what most of the church stands for?

HOPKINS: Yeah. I think that initially Senator Obama narrowed his critique to the specific 30-second sound bites that were looped all over the world and he�s carefully crafted his response. I think, what happened in the recent press conference in North Carolina on the part of Senator Obama is that he�s expanding his critique not simply of those sound bytes but he�s expanding his critique of his interpretation of the role of a pastor or the incorrect role of a pastor and also more, I think, Senator Obama is focusing on the issue of patriotism and anti-patriotism.

JAY: What do you think of that? If you read Obama�s foreign policy positions they don�t read very differently than a Clinton and to some extent even a McCain–some differences of McCain certainly–but the fundamental assumptions of foreign policy he doesn�t question and Wright certainly does. Is, in fact, Obama not really a product of that sort of school of thought that Wright and the Church represent.

HOPKINS: Well, I would say that the school of thought–the prophetic school of thought –that Wright represents would be much more intensely speaking true to power where obviously Senator Obama feels that he wants to move the country to the center in order to pull together the broadest amount of people both, Democrats, Independents and Republicans. So, yeah, there is a difference in how they see America.

JAY: It is also part of an electoral strategy that personally I question. Is Obama little too concerned with moving that center over to his side and perhaps not enough concerned with the 40% of America who don�t vote at all who mostly feel dispossessed and alienated. I mean, would it be a better strategy for him if he spoke more for them.

HOPKINS: He does have somewhat populous radical talk if you will. I mean, he talks about working people, he talks about the poor, he talks about building a movement from below to take back Washington. He talks about the special interests in the [inaudible]�so there�s sort of a mixed bag. There is a radical popular discourse if you will and–but at the same time, I think there is a pragmatic realization that if their Democratic Party is going to get elected then they�ve got to put forth the candidate who can bring back the so-called Reagan Democrats which means Independents and the so-called Obamacans.

JAY: What do you and many of your fellow members of the church feel about Reverend Wright�s timing? Why, now? What�s his objective? Certainly the consequence of it comes off as an attack on Obama. Bill Riley from Fox News, interesting enough, did not come after Obama yesterday. He went after Wright. I thought, he was quite measured on how much he critiqued Obama and accused Wright of sabotaging Obama�s campaign but Riley and some of the people on [inaudible] are saying that this really is something about Wright�s self-promotion, even implying that he makes money out of such center stage but certainly Obama accused him also of just trying to grab center stage. What do you and members of your church feel about that critique?

HOPKINS: Well, I�ve known Wright since 1984 and I�ve been attending Trinity, I think, for Wright it wasn�t so much timing and what�s the implications I think he sees himself as representing himself as a pastor, his members of his congregation and also code [inaudible] black church. We have to understand, and I think, basically, what he did was waited for the all-day uproar to settle down. A lot of people don�t know that he�s been constantly receiving death threats, his family, the new Pastor, Otis Moss, he and his family have been receiving death threats, there have been bomb threats to Trinity, and so, there�s a lot of things that I could go into. I think you get the general picture.

JAY: He waited for the uproar to die down so that essentially to start it again. He made three speeches in three different cities. He�s at the National Press Club in Washington. He�s in New York with Bill Moyers on PBS. He�s at NAACP in Detroit. I mean, he�s waging his own campaign here.

HOPKINS: Right. He also, I think, preached in Dallas, Sunday morning so actually it was four events. Yeah, so what I was trying to finish up and say is that as him seeing himself under attack as a pastor; seeing his congregation under attack, again from his perspective, and also seeing the black church prophetic tradition under attack. No, I know, what I know of him and his History he�s not going to be quiet. Now, again, the question is how does that impact the presidential campaign but again I don�t think he thinks of running or being appointed or politics in the way that political experts speak about.

JAY: Thank you very much, Reverend Hopkins.

PROF. HOPKINS: Ok. Thank you.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.