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Obama, faith and patriotism

The Real News Network’s Senior Editor Paul Jay pursues his discussion with talk show host Sam Greenfield at the “New Media Seminar” in New York City. They delve into the issue of religious affiliation and its impact on the respective campaigns of this year’s presidential hopefuls. At stake are questions of faith and patriotism on the campaign trail.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Welcome back for our second part of our interview with Sam Greenfield, WVNJ Radio talk show host in the New York area. We’re talking about Barack Obama, and the campaign that he’s waged and will wage, and what kind of president he might make. When Obama had his fight with Reverend Wright, or, I should say, when the Reverend Wright controversy broke, it was posed as a question of race and how one sees race in America. But in fact Wright’s comments were all about foreign policy—almost entirely. And what it really came down to was a questioning of Obama’s patriotism. If you could sit in a church for 20 years listening to this kind of critique, you’re an American. And we did stories in West Virginia and Kentucky, and there of course was racism among the people who were saying, but even more than the racism was that he’s not American. Talk to us about patriotism, Barack Obama, and how—is this the kind of force that’s going to push him further to the right?

GREENFIELD: I am saddened by the specter of questioning someone’s patriotism because they espouse a position that may be different from yours—not yours, but it really bothers me. I grew up in African-American City, DC, and I lived across the street from a 5,000-member African-American Church. And the African-American church in this country have always been a centerpiece of political movement—Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Walter Fauntroy, Jesse Jackson, on and on and on. It’s always been a centerpiece. Politics has always been part of the black church. So the fact that Jeremiah Wright did that does not surprise me. His patriotism is being questioned by people for the express purpose of defeating him in November. Like, they interviewed this woman in West Virginia who said, "I know he’s a Muslim, and I hear his wife’s an atheist." You could present her an affidavit from City Hall saying he is a Christian, he’s been in the same Christian church for 20 years, his wife’s not an atheist, their children were baptized, and it doesn’t matter, because they’re being fed information—and this is one of the things that bothers me about talk radio. You know, if you have a disagreement with someone, express the agreement intelligently—don’t lie. It saddens me that people listen to these lies and accept them. The reason they accept them is it does fortify their belief.

JAY: Even in liberal talk—talk radio, press, and otherwise—there’s very little questioning of just what is patriotism. What is the issue? Like, patriotism is almost like a religion. You can’t unpack it.

GREENFIELD: I don’t think it should be questioned. I don’t think it should be talked about. I think it’s a BS issue. I always have. I think that, you know, what is a patriot? Is a patriot, you know, a guy who works every day and has a wife who works every day, and they raise three kids, and they’re law-abiding people, and their kids are law-abiding? That’s patriotism to me, ’cause those are the people who are the centerpiece of the country.

JAY: Like, is Ron Paul unpatriotic for saying close all the American bases?

GREENFIELD: No. It’s his opinion. This is America. If I can’t have an opinion, you can disagree with me, but I’m not a non-patriot because you disagree with me. That’s the vile part to me of talk radio that they define you as a patriot by "I don’t agree with you; therefore you’re not a patriot." That’s fatuous on its face to me. So I think we should get out of Iraq—I don’t support the troops? If you turned around to that person and said, "Explain that to me. Explain that connect, that I want them alive and I don’t support them," and they start [stammers] because they have no answer. That bothers me. And I always nip that in the bud when someone talks about it.

JAY: But do you think that if you take Obama’s reaction to Reverend Wright, you know, the extent to which he denounced Wright, this phrase "God damn America." If something like saying that was akin to the way some Islamists reacted to the Danish cartoon, making fun of Iran and Iraq, just to say the words became such an outrage that you couldn’t discuss any of the substance of what Wright actually had to say.

GREENFIELD: You see, but that’s what opposition does. They don’t talk about the war in Iran. They don’t talk about the sagging—.

JAY: The war in Iraq.

GREENFIELD: Excuse me. Iraq. Am I being prescient?

JAY: You might be.

GREENFIELD: I see a—. They don’t talk about that. They don’t talk about the sagging economy. They don’t talk about the mistreatment of prisoners. They don’t talk about any of those things. "His reverend said ‘God damn.’" It’s a non-issue. It’s a non-issue. But let me also say this: if you’re Jeremiah Wright, and this man’s been a part of your church for 20 years, and you’ve been his mentor, and you know he’s running for president, you’ve got to display some common sense. And if you want him to be president—you know he’s not a stupid guy, Wright, you know, he’s not at all—you have to back off if you want him to be president, because you know they’re out there. He’s not a fool. You know they’re out there. And instead of backing off—I’m not talking about shutting yourself off, but instead of backing off, he fed the fire. I watched that man’s ego explode. That man was for the first time in his life getting all the airtime he ever desired. If you’re standing in front of a church of 3,000 people, you have an ego. And he exacerbated it.

JAY: This is when he came back the second time.

GREENFIELD: That is correct. And he exacerbated Obama’s problem. This man is a member of his flock, and he wants to be president, and it’s a black man running for president, and you’re a black preacher. Sometimes you’ve got to, you know, just—if you want this guy to win, you have to do that. I’m being pragmatic. I mean, ideally, yeah, he should say whatever he wants, but there’s two new people. You know, you can’t underestimate what—.

JAY: But did you think Obama’s response was the correct response?

GREENFIELD: I thought that the second time it was, not the first time. I thought that he had to extricate himself from Wright. Yes, I do. But, see, let me go to another step.

JAY: And so he quits the church and has the full cutoff.

GREENFIELD: He wants to be president. He wants to be president. You know, do I want to be a faithful member of this guy who has turned on me, you know, or do I want to be president? The worst case to me is Father Pfleger, who, you know, does this Hillary as a white woman kind of thing, you know, and he’s head of a predominantly black Catholic church. And the right is criticizing Obama over a guy who’s not his minister. But I don’t hear anybody criticizing McCain for embracing Jerry Falwell, who is a vile, anti-Semitic racist. You know, that’s okay. Or Hagee, who’s clearly insane. I don’t hear that nearly to the extent I hear it from Wright. And one of the reasons is people in this country who aren’t black do not have a concept of the black church. They don’t know what it’s about. They don’t know it’s political. They don’t know it’s charismatic. They don’t know that. So when they hear a black preacher say something like, "Oh, I’ve never heard anything like that," no, you haven’t.

JAY: In the next segment of the interview, I’m going to pursue this further with you, and my question again will be: are progressive Democrats letting Obama off the hook?

GREENFIELD: Okay.

JAY: And please join us for part 3.

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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.