Gerald Posner: Rev Wright and Barack
[Gerald Posner is the author of 10 books of investigative non-fiction, seven NYT bestsellers, and a finalist for the Pulitzer in History. His last book was Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi US Connection.]
I am a Barack Obama supporter. I liked Senator John Edwards, think Hilary Clinton would make a super president, but have been persuaded ever since the start of the campaign that Barack offers the greatest chance for substantive, and greatly over needed, change.
I'm still in the Barack camp. But, as a vocal supporter, I'd like just a couple of answers about the flap over Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Chicago megachurch where the Obamas have been members for 20 years.
Guilt by association is totally unwarranted. Barack is not responsible for Wright's views. However, how he responds to those views - and whether he is being straight with us, the voters - is critical as to whether he should lead our country.
The key issue for me, as both a supporter and as a reporter, revolves around what I view as Wright's most incendiary comments, those implying that America - because of its own actions - deserved the 9/11 terror attacks.
Wright made his comments on September 16, only 5 days after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington. He said, in part, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye....We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."
Barack was then serving in the Illinois senate. He had unsuccessfully run for Congress the previous year. Although the Trinity United Church is large (6,000 members), the Obamas were then, and have been since his 1997 election to the State Senate, some of the best known parishioners.
A church, synagogue, mosque, and other places of worship, are like extensions of the local communities they serve. Afro-centric churches like Trinity serve not only as houses of worship but as a backdrop for a wide range of social, personal, and often business, relationships. When a parishioner is away from their house of worship, if the preacher/priest/rabbi/imam says something particularly out of character - or wildly controversial - it is almost impossible that members aren't going to talk about it endlessly as gossip.
There was no more traumatic event in our recent history than 9/11 Reverend Wright's comments would have raised a ruckus at most places in America, coming so soon after the the attack itself. Political commentator Bill Maher lost his TV show when he seconded a guest's observation that the hijackers had courage to carry out their attack. The country was emotionally raw.
If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright's post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there - by 9/11 they were there more than a decade - and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright's views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright's vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack - a sitting Illinois State Senator - would have been one of the first to hear about it.
Can't you imagine the call or conversation? "Barack, you aren't going to believe what Revered Wright said yesterday at the church. You should be ready with a comment if someone from the press calls you up."
But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 20007.
And even if Barack is correct - and I desperately want to believe him - then it still does not explain why, when he learned in 2007 of Wright's fringe comments about 9/11 and other subjects, the campaign did not then disassociate itself from the Reverend. Wright was not removed from the campaign's Spiritual Advisory Committee until two days ago, and it appears likely that nothing would have been done had this story not broken nationally.
Come on, Barack. I'm backing you because you are not 'one of them.' You have inspired me and millions of others because you are not a typical politician. You tell it like it is, don't fudge the facts, and don't dodge and weave with clever words to avoid uncomfortable truths.
Tell it straight. Was Reverend Wright so radical that his post 9/11 comments did not cause a stir at the Church, and you never learned about them until 2007, nearly 6 years later? Why, when you did learn about them, did you not ask Revered Wright to step down from his role in your campaign?
Give us the plain truth. You won't lose us by being brutally honest. You only risk shaking our faith in you if you seem like so many other politicians that crowd the field.
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r w s - 4/18/2008
> In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing
> President John F. Kennedy's challenge to, "Ask not
> what your country can do for you, but what you can
> do for your country," gave up his student deferment,
> left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the
> In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of
> service in the Marines, volunteered again to become
> a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to
> the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.)
> The man did so well in corpsman school that he was
> the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary
> technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the
> Navy's premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval
> Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief's
> medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon
> B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery.
> For his service on the team, which he left in 1967,
> the White House awarded him three letters of
> What is even more remarkable is that this man
> entered the Marines and Navy not many years after
> the two branches began to become integrated.
> While this young man was serving six years on active
> duty, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was born the
> same year as the Marine/sailor, received five
> deferments, four for being an undergraduate and
> graduate student and one for being a prospective
> Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both
> five years younger than the African-American youth,
> used their student deferments to stay in college
> until 1968. Both then avoided going on active duty
> through family connections.
> Who is the real patriot? The young man who
> interrupted his studies to serve his country for six
> years or our three political leaders who beat the
> system? Are the patriots the people who actually
> sacrifice something or those who merely talk about
> their love of the country?
> After leaving the service of his country, the young
> African-American finished his final year of college,
> entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister,
> and eventually became pastor of a large church in
> one of America's biggest cities.
> This man is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring
> pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.
> He Earned the right to speak, just in case you may
> think that being an American is not enough!