Michael Gerson: Partisan Hack
Former Bush speech writer and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson shows himself to be a thoroughly dishonest partisan hack. His column and my responses in bold.
A Speech That Fell Short
By Michael Gerson
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama has run a campaign based on a simple premise: that words of unity and hope matter to America. Now he has been forced by his charismatic, angry pastor to argue that words of hatred and division don’t really matter as much as we thought.
A fraudulent statement. Obama has not run a campaign based on words alone, he has a long list of specific proposals, including, to take one example, a rather more complete and honest approach to health care than the blather offered by John McCain. He has never said that words alone were the point of his campaign. He’s said just the opposite. Gerson uses Hillary Clinton’s parody of Obama as though it were fact.
Obama’s Philadelphia speech made this argument as well as it could be made. He condemned the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s views in strong language — and embraced Wright as a wayward member of the family. He made Wright and his congregation a symbol of both the nobility and “shocking ignorance” of the African-American experience — and presented himself as a leader who transcends that conflicted legacy. The speech recognized the historical reasons for black anger — and argued that the best response to those grievances is the adoption of Obama’s own social and economic agenda.
It was one of the finest political performances under pressure since John F. Kennedy at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960. It also fell short in significant ways.
The problem with Obama’s argument is that Wright is not a symbol of the strengths and weaknesses of the African-American community. He is a political extremist, holding views that are shocking to many Americans who wonder how any presidential candidate could be so closely associated with an adviser who refers to the “U.S. of KKK-A” and urges God to “damn” our country.
Obama did not say that Wright was a symbol of the strengths and weaknesses. The word symbol does not appear in the speech. What Obama said was:
“But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, 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.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems. . .”
Obama’s excellent and important speech on race in America did little to address his strange tolerance for the anti-Americanism of his spiritual mentor.
Either Mr. Gerson did not read the speech, or he is blind. The bulk of the speech is precisely on this topic. He makes the point at some length that he saw Wright as a spiritual, not political mentor. That Wright brought him to Jesus. That Wright also did some good work in the community, and that it was for these reasons that he admired Rev. Wright.
Take an issue that Obama did not specifically confront in Philadelphia. In a 2003 sermon, Wright claimed, “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”
This accusation does not make Wright, as Obama would have it, an “occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy.” It makes Wright a dangerous man. He has casually accused America of one of the most monstrous crimes in history, perpetrated by a conspiracy of medical Mengeles. If Wright believes his charge is correct, he should urge the overthrow of the American government, which he views as guilty of unspeakable evil. If I believed Wright were correct, I would join him in that cause.
The Christian right accuses the United States of perpetrating a holocaust through abortion. Mr. Gerson himself believes this. And yet, no revolution for Mr. Gerson. So, it seems, it is utterly inexcusable for Rev. Wright to stupidly accuse the US government of one bit of mass-murder, but perfectly all right for Mr. Gerson’s allies to accuse the US government of a rather larger act of murder.
But Wright’s accusation is batty, reflecting a sputtering, incoherent hatred for America. And his pastoral teaching may put lives at risk, because the HIV virus spreads more readily in an atmosphere of denial, quack science and conspiracy theories.
Much as intolerance of gays by the Christian right puts gays at risk. No? Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell both accused the United States of having deserved, indeed brought on, the attacks of 9-11. Mr. Bush demurred. But he did so in terms far tamer than those used by Mr. Obama to chasten Rev. Wright. And lest we forget, Mr. McCain then made a pilgrimmage to kiss the hem of the Christian right’s garments.
The Philadelphia speech implied that these toxic views are somehow parallel to the stereotyping of black men by Obama’s grandmother, which Obama said made him “cringe” — both are the foibles of family. But while Grandma may have had some issues to work through, Wright is accusing the American government of trying to kill every member of a race. There is a difference.
The US government did, of course, manage to murder most of a race, the Native American one. And the US government did in fact deliberately infect black test subjects with syphillis in the experiments in Tuskeegee. All ancient history, yes. But perhaps less ancient for an aging black preacher. And Wright’s accusations are in no way any more inflammatory than statements made by Mr. Gerson’s allies on the far right.
But haven’t George Bush and other Republican politicians accepted the support of Jerry Falwell, who spouted hate of his own? Yes, but they didn’t financially support his ministry and sit directly under his teaching for decades.
Oh, spare me. Mr. Bush and every Republican have taken money from Robertson and Falwell and Dobson and gone begging for more. So it’s morally reprehensible to toss a $20 into Rev. Wright’s collection plate, but acceptable to take millions in donations from right-wing nuts? Even Mr. Gerson can’t be quite that stupid. Which makes this paragraph not just absurd, but actively dishonest: a deliberate lie.
The better analogy is this: What if a Republican presidential candidate spent years in the pew of a theonomist church — a fanatical fragment of Protestantism that teaches the modern political validity of ancient Hebrew law? What if the church’s pastor attacked the American government as illegitimate and accepted the stoning of homosexuals and recalcitrant children as appropriate legal penalties (which some theonomists interpret as biblical requirements)? Surely we would conclude, at the very least, that the Republican candidate attending this church lacked judgment, and that his donations were subsidizing hatred. And we would be right.
Again, see Pat and Jerry and a thousand others. The GOP has absorbed religious extremists into its core. Men and women who believe gays deserve to die. Men and women who believe a woman who is raped and aborts the resulting fetus is a murderer. Men and women who hold that an unbaptized baby may well burn in hellfire for all of eternity. Men and women who believe Jews and Muslims not only will, but deserve to be, consigned to eternal torment.
In Philadelphia, Obama attempted to explain Wright’s anger as typical of the civil rights generation, with its “memories of humiliation and doubt and fear.” But Wright’s problem is exactly the opposite: He ignored the message of Martin Luther King Jr. and introduced a new generation to the politics of hatred.
No, Obama did not attempt to pass of Wright as “typical.” He attempted to put the kookery in some context. Oprah Winfrey has attended this church. Was she introduced to the politics of hate? Is she the next radical we’ll see being denounced? And just how out of touch with reality is Mr. Gerson that he can, with a straight face, suggest that African Americans would otherwise never have noticed that there was still race hatred in this country?
King drew a different lesson from the oppression he experienced: “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear. I’ve seen it on the faces of too many sheriffs of the South. … Hate distorts the personality. … The man who hates can’t think straight; the man who hates can’t reason right; the man who hates can’t see right; the man who hates can’t walk right.”
Barack Obama is not a man who hates — but he chose to walk with a man who does.
You mean, like the guy in the picture above?