Gerald Posner: Rev Wright and BarackRoundup: Historians' Take
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.