Monday, March 17, 2008
Ron Walters on the Attack on Obama
Blackening Barack Obama
By Ron Walters
What I’m wondering right now is why none of the other candidates for president have been held to account for the sermons of their pastors. It’s not like the other instances where John McCain’s surrogate pastor was speaking for the campaign when he went off the deep end pronouncing Barack Obama’s full name repeatedly, or Geraldine Ferraro, Chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance committee, who said that Obama would not be where he is were he not black. No, I could not find any instance where Trinity United Church of Christ or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was connected to the campaign. So, the media, especially Fox TV, where Hannity and Combs began this witch hunt last year, by calling Trinity a “Cult” has found Obama guilty by association. Why?
This is a less than transparent attempt do what race sensitive whites always do to a high-flying black figure in a white majority country who is about to gain some real national authority, they put him in a black box. We saw this in the 1984 and especially the 1988 presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson when, regardless of the fact that his campaign was more integrated than any other, and that he reached out to more diverse groups than any other, they considered him the “black” candidate. Some of this could be justified because of Rev. Jackson’s long history as a civil rights leader.
Barack Obama, however, is another case. The massive vilification of Trinity and Rev. Wright and the gross misunderstanding of the black church have me wondering why “the black church” does not throw the considerable arms of love support and power behind them. It is patently clear, for example, that no other church with the stature of Trinity would be so maligned without a considerable pushback from the community they represent. The media simply does not understand black preaching, which has always used apocalyptic language to cut deep into the heart of the truth and they really do not understand the perspective by which blacks view public events which comes from the pain of their disproportionate sacrifices.
Nevertheless, in this we see a culture clash, that of the black community and the arena in which presidential politics is conducted. In that arena, one must display an unerring patriotism whether or not the country has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in pursuit of a misguided, illegal and disastrous war policy. The president of the country – and running to succeed him – must uphold the dignity of the country at all cost. So, there is a level of official symbolic ritual that clashes with the level of truth telling where people grapple with who they are and where they are in relation to public events. Thus, to associate Obama with Rev. Wright’s statements is to attempt to negate his legitimacy in the official symbolic arena and tie him to that level of belief that is the often the harshest critic of America.
I have also seen the attempt to paint Obama in the black corner by media commentators who are obsessed with the black vote as the base of Obama’s victories. Rev. Jackson won the lion’s share of the black vote, so that expectation should not the story in this campaign – unless one is tilting toward the Clinton’s explanation of his victories. No, the real story of this campaign is why he has been legitimized by so many white voters black vote, why they have pushed into the leading position in this race.
To answer this question forces an analysts to go beyond the easy explanation of race, and to deal with what is really hurting the American people. When you do that accurately, you must go beyond the official symbolic level and explain some nasty, undemocratic, inhuman and economically rapacious things that have been done in the name of America. So many Americans have vowed that this will not be done on their watch, meaning that they have joined the movement for change to redirect the course of the country. And I cannot help but believe that to kill the messenger, Obama, is to try to kill the possibility for change. That is what sends them back to the tool kit every week, trying to find something to stop this movement.
We must be clear that there are powerful forces in this country that do not want real change and they will fight back to retain their status and power. But we should understand that and not go for the weekly rope-a-dope.
Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar and Director of the Africa American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. One of his latest books is: Freedom is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates and American Presidential Politics (Rowman and Littlefield Press).