Thursday, May 01, 2008

On Obama - I Was Wrong

Yesterday, I let my frustration with the Obama / Wright mess get the better of me. I was wrong to so shallowly address the situation in yesterday's post. There's no excuse for sloppy or lazy thinking.

In a personal email, a loyal and longtime reader, who also happens to be a psychologist, exercised some true compassion in gently taking me to task for not looking at the deeper motivations in how and why Obama responded the way he did to the situation with his pastor.

As someone who lost my father at a young age (though older than Obama was), I understand how we can look for a father figure in our lives. It was pointed out to me that Wright likely filled that role in Obama's life when he was a kid in his mid-twenties trying to make his way in the world. I did the same thing. And if the person I trusted and sought guidance from had betrayed me in the same way, I would have been hesitant to denounce him and pained if I had to do so.

One is quite likely -- and willing -- to overlook the flaws in a man who serves that surrogate father role in a meaningful way -- even when the whole element of the relationship is unconscious (as I think it was in Obama's case). Perhaps even more so when that man is also a spiritual adviser.

Kai left this comment on that previous post:
How do you think Obama felt being blindsided by such idiocy at the worst possible moment by someone he admired? (Before you protest he ought to have known better or expected it: have you ever in life been close to someone, believed that you actually "knew" them--or at least the range of their possible actions--and yet been blindsided--in a good or bad way-- at some point by one of their actions? Has this in fact happened in ALL your long term intimate relationships? Is it, maybe, the nature of relationship that we never finally--or perhaps especially--know the people we're close to?)
He's exactly right. Who hasn't been hurt in this way by someone we have trusted?

In that regard, some reviewers of the Obama press conference noted that he seemed pained to have to make that break. This appeared at Real Clear Politics, from the rather dim-witted Michelle Malkin:
Barack Obama looked pale and wan at what he called his "big press conference" about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright on Tuesday afternoon. Numb. Chastened. Defeated. Extolled for his eloquence, Obama stuttered and stammered his way through the question-and-answer session.
She got that part right, the rest of her screed not so much. This next bit appeared in Mother Jones, and it also highlights the pain Obama expressed:
With an expression of pain and sadness on his face, Obama said he had been "shocked" and "surprised" by Wright's performance Monday at the National Press Club. "I don't think anyone could attribute" Wright's ideas "to me," he remarked, noting that Wright was "wrong" and his recent statements "appalling." He insisted that Wright's remarks contradict "how I was raised," "my public life," "what I said in my book," "my 2004 convention speech," and "everything I've said on the campaign trail."

Referring to his speech last month on race—which was prompted by the first Wright eruption—Obama said that he had tried to "provide a context... and make something positive out of" the Wright affair. Regarding Wright's National Press Club appearance, Obama said it was "a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth. I can't construct something positive out of that." Wright, he observed, had "caricatured himself."

Here is a bit of the press conference:

This video was posted at You Tube by the Obama campaign.

Obama does seem to be a bit pained in having to make his statement in the first video. In the second one, he explains his relationship and his history with Wright, while fully denouncing Wright's inflammatory statements. That had to be tough.

The reader who emailed me also made another astute point about my previous post. I quoted Kos and said he made a good point in condemning Obama for throwing Wright overboard because a bunch of white folks are uncomfortable with a black preacher's comments. Should Obama maintain his relationship with Wright while he makes a mockery of Obama's efforts to move beyond race, simply because they are both black men? It would be silly to suggest he should, as it seems Kos was suggesting.

It is not racist for a white guy like me to say that Wright's comments are offensive and factually incorrect. Obama is not a race-traitor for saying the same thing. Is it racist to say Wright not only damaged Obama's campaign and set race relations back, but that he sometimes acted like a clown on that stage? Watch the video again:

I feel bad for Obama today. Yesterday I was frustrated and disappointed that Obama's campaign has been derailed by this man he once trusted as a friend and adviser. I hope he and his campaign can recover.


Anonymous said...

on my part, it seems to me that Obama was pained in delivering his statement. father-figure or not, i would've done what Obama did. it was a gross disrespect on Obama what Rev. Wright did.

that said, this issue is a big distraction to the real issues so i don't pay too much attention to it (except that it's hard to avoid it with all network and cable TV and the blogosphere covering the damn thing.)

i agree with Michael Moore's take on this issue. see my blog post for more context.

keep it cool :)


Anonymous said...

It is rare to see someone truly change someone else's mind and I was quite moved to see this post. Kai wrote a beautifully thought-out response to your original post, and you were able to hear the words. I just had to observe that it's pretty cool when this whole human communication thing actually works!

Like Kai, I'm not looking for an infallible leader, just someone with the intellectual capacity, independence of mind and generosity of spirit worthy of the position of President. For me, Obama best fits that bill of all the candidates proposed, though there is little doubt, if he is given the chance, he will probably disappoint in many ways, both seen and unforeseen. On the other hand, he'll also probably surprise us in ways we can't even imagine at this point. I hope we get to find out . . . this whole thing has become such a terrible distraction, I'm no longer convinced he'll win the nomination.

Anonymous said...

I find myself in sympathy with teeny dakini and ~c4. The Democratic primary, like all elections in my recent memory, has ceased being about issues, and is focused on gotcha politics. It's a dispiriting spectacle.

I still support Obama as well. But if Hillary Clinton wins the next two states, we may find ourselves voting for a different Democrat in November. As much a temptation as protest-voting third party is, I can't in good conscience help subject the US to four more years of Republican rule.