Barack Obama's Pastor

The recent silly media dispute in America about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, has been the occasion for three refreshing developments. One is Obama's great speech on race, which I think was an address comparable to Lincoln's Cooper Union Address and well worth the time that I spent listening to it. Another was the confirmation, if I needed it, of the determination of the media to ignore John McCain's official preacher de choix, Jim Hagee, and his anticatholic tirades and fifth monarchist, near-anabaptist extremism.

A third thing that I thought that I could point out, however, is how much Wright's freewheeling sermons revealed the memory of history that many Africa Americans have but which the vast majority of American society is ignorant about.

Let's take the allegation that most people thought was the 'most outrageous' in Wright's sermon, drawn in passion from the depth of his mind; that officials in the American government had manufactured AIDS in some fashion and set it against black people. It might seem of a piece with the views of Thabo Mbeki, that AIDS is a disease of poverty that may have multiple sources which has been much more destructive and much less noted in the American media.

Really though, how many people remember that for nearly half a century after 1932, black men were studied in the throes of late-stage syphilis and given placebo treatments in the USA as part of a study of the effects on human beings? They were lied to and racked in pain and President Clinton eventually had to apologise for it. What would suffering a crime as a group like that do to an identity?

Or again, how many people studied the reaction of the African American community to substantiated allegations that crack cocaine emerged from Ronald Reagan's contra wars and was allowed into the black districts of American cities by the Central Intelligence Agency?

Though stories of American use of biological weapons in Korea in the fifties have been debunked, even the journal of the American Medical Association has noted serious allegations which, for many of those who have read of the attempted use of infected blankets or the shooting of dead animals in drinking water during the nineteenth century, raise all sorts of paranoia.

It's also the case that the post-September 11 worries about anthrax, which were many and apparently serious, mostly track back to varieties of the biological agent manufactured in the USA. It is also true though that a natural origin for the material was possible

In the face of all this--not to mention nearly 5000 deaths from lynchings and millions upon millions of deaths in slavery, why shouldn't a black church that seeks empowerment seek to contextualise and rationalise anger? Surely, Wright's mistake was to allow it expression without attempting to move on from it.

Except he did. It's simply that no one is listening. Wright's former church in Chicago has been noted as central to efforts to deal with poverty, AIDS, and violence in America. He also said a few silly things about Palestinians about which I do not approve, and some that called for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue (admittedly in what seemed a spirit of ignorance) of which I do approve.

Contrast all this with Jim Hagee, and the rest of the Republican evangelical crowd. Here's a video of Pat Robertson inciting murder, of which he ought to be ashamed frankly. There is a case for a prosecution for incitement to politically motivated murder under the UK terrorism acts, I would have thought, though I feel somewhat hyperbolic in saying it and Mr Robertson has since denied what he is saying below is what he was saying. If you get my drift. Apparently Hugo Chavez, a bog-standard South American populist dictator, is spreading communism and islam and other such things in oil drums.

John McCain has accepted the endorsement of Jim Hagee and praised Pat Robertson. He has also appeared at Bob Jones University, which as far as I can see maintained bans on interracial dating into the 21st century. One of its professors used one of McCain's adopted children--who was from Bangladesh--against him in a racist smear campaign in 2000. Still, you can't blame McCain. Here's a picture of the gipper with Bob Jones himself.

Really, when all this is considered, put what Obama has done into context. Then you won't be surprised that he has gone up in the polls, and Clinton down, after the collective heads of the United States Press Corps exploded a couple of weeks ago and she started banging on about it.

There is one rather jarring note to all of this. John McCain has, when he hasn't been quiet, actually defended freedom of speech on this one. That means he is either a decent Republican or an intelligent one. I have known a few of those, and frankly, they are a very tough opponent to beat if you are of a moderate inclination.


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