[Guest post by DRJ]
In an earlier post on Barack Obama’s March 18 speech, I linked without comment to James Taranto’s Best of the Web in which Taranto discussed Obama’s white grandmother. Taranto focused on a section of Obama’s speech in which he compared his white grandmother and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The comparison occurred halfway through Obama’s speech in consecutive paragraphs:
“And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
Here is an excerpt from Taranto’s WSJ Best of the Web from the same day:
“So here we have, on the one hand, an old white woman who would be completely ordinary and anonymous but for her grandson’s astonishing political success, and who harbors some regrettable prejudices; and, on the other, a leader in the black community who uses his pulpit to propagate an ideology of hate.”
Taranto concludes by wondering how Obama can heal racial wounds when he can’t even speak up against the bigoted rhetoric of his own spiritual adviser. I agree with that, and I’d like to add these thoughts:
In the first paragraph above, Obama recounts a close, 20+ year relationship with Wright. In all that time, Obama can’t recall ever hearing Wright say anything derogatory about an ethnic group. In contrast, in the very next paragraph, Obama clearly remembers details and conversations with his white grandmother in which she “confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street” and “on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes.”
Obama’s memories of his grandmother are vivid and detailed and yet he can’t recall ever hearing Wright engage in derogatory rhetoric over the past 20 years. Is it possible that, despite documented examples of Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric, Obama simply can’t remember whether Wright said anything derogatory about an ethnic group? Given his strong mind and keen memory, that seems highly unlikely.
The other possibility is that Obama never heard Wright say anything controversial; however, Obama has now admitted that he already knew about “one or two statements” but did not realize this was “happening with more frequency.”
Thus, the question becomes: Why would Obama willingly overlook inflammatory statements by Wright when he so clearly remembers the details and feels the pain of his grandmother’s slurs?
Let’s face it. It’s easier to remember offensive statements than statements you agree with or believe are true. Thus, even though he heard at least “one or two” of Wright’s statements, Obama’s grandmother’s words were more memorable and offensive because they hurt.
However, Wright’s message of hate, anger, and white guilt was easy to overlook because it didn’t hurt. That’s something to remember when a candidate like Obama promises he is the best person to heal differences among us.
Finally, one last political thought: Obama’s speech, which I think was masterfully crafted, may ultimately do him more harm than good because it keeps the focus on race. Obama’s speech pays lip service to the notion that it’s time to put racial divisions behind, but in fact he has refocused the debate on whether racial groups are treated fairly in America. That is a return to the 1960’s and ’70s, a time of black power, white guilt and anti-war activism. Some may be glad to see those days return but the average voter won’t see that as change we can believe in.