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Obama shouldn’t be held responsible for his pastor’s comments

The wrong issues are being discussed in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:48 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

Nothing illustrates the shallow and strikingly irrelevant coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign quite like the overdose of attention paid to the provocative rants of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright regarding the Sept. 11 attacks on America’s World Trade Center. Applicable across the spectrum, this lack of intellectual depth is apparent not only in the media’s and politicians’ promotion of a circus atmosphere as opposed to salient issues but also in the general public’s appetite for this sensational but relatively superficial drivel.

The incidence of irrational or intemperate individuals bent on delivering warped messages for reasons of self-aggrandizement or to gain attention for a specific cause is neither new nor unusual as firebrands, zealots, agitators with causes and those who are obviously a bag of fries short a Happy Meal have been with us from the beginning. Fortunately, for most of those years, we were spared exposure to such rhetorical vitriol and/or nonsense, for no one placed microphones before them nor featured them on national television.

To be sure, the Rev. Wright’s remarks concerning Sept. 11’s cause and effects, along with his personal opinions and accusations, were inflammatory, rejected outright by most Americans and, in at least two instances, outright falsehoods.

Nevertheless, such utterances, up to and including the abuse of his right to make a fool of himself, are constitutionally guaranteed. The art of accelerating one’s mouth before engaging the brain is a universal one that’s practiced by the religious and the secular, the learned and the unlearned, leaders and followers and both sides of the political aisle — neither faction has a monopoly on public ignorance.

Handing this matter provokes two separate problems as I see it. First, it appears a bit unfair to Sen. Barack Obama to castigate him for an issue over which he had no control and, secondly, to the voting public in that the overlong dwelling upon such minutia tends to give him a pass on defining his positions on those issues of real substance. One may give Obama a low mark in judgment, perhaps. However, to hold him responsible for his pastor’s opinions is a bit much. Is there one of us without acquaintances or friends who are given to unreasonable or downright nutty comments?

This controversy has provided Obama a platform for oratory, a trait at which on the issue of race he is extremely skilled; and, while worthy of debate, it is hardly the most pressing dilemma facing voters. Addressing his relationship with the aforementioned pastor, along with his life experiences to record, his opposition to those offensive views was a remarkable exercise in eloquence in articulation. Nevertheless, his call for meaningful dialogue on race appears an obfuscation to avoid the hard questions concerning his promise of change.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines dialogue as “discussion directed toward exploration or solution of a problem.” Unfortunately, discussion has become a political football game, the” dialogue” degenerating into adolescent shouting matches over such anomalies as “who shot John?” Very similar to the debates over Social Security reform, the conduct of the War on Terror, the economy and immigration reform, the exchange of differing views on race is less civil than that seen on the now defunct Crossfire and the still surviving McLaughlin Report.

Obama’s considerable eloquence is well documented and his skilled effort to defuse the controversy triggered by his long-time pastor was admirable — reminiscent of the fancy footwork and bobbing and weaving of the late boxing great “Sugar” Ray Robinson. But voters deserve a more meaty substance than glib rhetoric and a promise to heal racial divides.

His vague commitment to change carries with it a distinct populist message — one that is borne out by his voting record in the U.S. Senate. For example, his stated intent to raise the tax on capital gains from 15 to 28 percent ignores the fact that more than half of American families have invested in stocks and that seniors on fixed incomes look to these gains for retirement income — Wall Street is no longer the exclusive playground of the rich.

In the final analysis, Obama has demonstrated a superior ability to talk the talk; however, there is little evidence of any experience in walking the walk. The elaborate rhetoric promising little of substance other than “change” may resonate with some, but accompanying this message of change are promises of additional entitlements. I am sure he means well, but is the presidency a proper venue for on-the-job training?


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