Reverend Wright versus FISA

by: Matt Stoller

Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 09:29

Here's Jerome Armstrong:

If you were wondering when the rightwing was gonna go after swiftboating Barack Obama, you might want to check out the WSJ's version today. The interesting thing is that, as I cruised through the progressive blogs today, I didn't see anything in the way of a defense, or even a mention of it happening. It seems eerily similar to mid-August 2004.

Jerome is wrong on the facts, since Wright has been discussed all over the blogs since this broke.  Obama himself responded on the Huffington Post.

But he is not wrong on the larger point, which is that no one has mounted an effective defense for Obama against this attack.  There's been a good amount of pontificating about whether Wright said the right thing or the wrong thing, but the real organizing and journalism in the progressive blogosphere has been focused on fighting Bush and the telecom industry on wiretapping.  If Obama had led on this or any other fight, we could easily make the argument that the Wright discussion is a distraction from his leadership qualities and badgered various elites for their lack of focus on substance.  But now there really is no argument.  Wright is saying things that are politically difficult for Obama the brand to handle.  They are stupid, Obama's a good candidate and he should not be held accountable for what his pastor says.  Has Bush or McCain or Kerry or Clinton been held accountable for the speeches of their religious leader?  Of course not.

But Obama is not a part of any progressive fights, so there's no independent organizing going on on his behalf from people who actually understand the right-wing media and how it operates.  He's decided he's a post-partisan politician, and when a politician makes that choice, it's not just a disincentive for partisans to fight for that person.  It becomes structurally impossible to fight for him because the incentives get all out of whack.

Hopefully this will change relatively soon.

Matt Stoller :: Reverend Wright versus FISA

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While you are not totally wrong on the "larger point" (2.67 / 3)
Using the words of Jerome aka Mr Taylor Marsh  to highlight your post, doesn't make any sense. You have been very critical of Obama, as is your right. But Jerome who has become no more than a Hillary hack like Marsh, has no credibility any longer to speak of anything progressive.
actually I hear if you even criticize Marsh on MYHRC you are banned fom the progressive!...NOT

Rezko is the bigger problem (0.00 / 0)
not because Obama did anything "wrong" - but because Obama has lied about his relationship with Rezko, refused to meet with Chicago reporters to discuss it - while the MSM has concealed anything negative about Obama from the public.
Now - Obama is finally revealing more info about Rezko - and Obama's faulty judgment - but only AFTER he's a front runner and Rezko is on trial.


Matt sometimes I am completely stumped by your writing (4.00 / 1)
But Obama is not a part of any progressive fights,

It what world does running for the democratic presidential nomination at the head of a massive coalition wishing to end 3 decades of far right rule not qualify to being progressive?

Not progressive enough, on these issues, for that fight or because I'm pissed off about that decision: all of these I can see one writing, all I can hear, arguments good and bad, and I can see the point to be made about framing the debate better in terms of progressive outcomes. But to deny that Senator Barrack Obama and the coalition driving him forward isnt progressive is bizarre.

And in what way does this help the process, the project that we are all signed onto. The project we are on, because this is our planet, this is now, this is the situation we are in now. It isn't a "lets posit this situation" or a "if it were my dream" or even "if I were running things."

This is this country, this is right now, this is the project we must complete. It is our job.

That includes for example speaking truth, common sense and passion about the great coalition that will bring a centre left government to the most powerful democracy in history.

Hopefully this will change? ???

I have mo0re hope that Obama, who seems to put his foot in the right place to grow this coalition, to make America dream again, to encourage involvement and to win victories.

There are places to exert pressure. Battles to be engaged for true universal healthcare, for restoring the constitution, for ending the war, for ending carbon emissions and restructuring the economy and the driving powers of the economy so it benefits all directly.

But the project to end far right rule and hegemony is central, is progressive, is a moral imperative,  and it demands our participation if we are to call ourselves progressives without shame.

I write far too quickly, tossing off badly typed, badly spelled, structurally weak sentences far too often. I apologize. But we all come here, not because of my crap, but because some of the best thinking and writing about our struggle is here, by talented writers, focused directly on the subject we care about.

I will write slower, think longer, and type better in the future. So should we all.

The project before us, today, demands it.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Hey, I am for (4.00 / 1)
Gore/Obama 2008.  Where do I sign up? Did I miss something?

[ Parent ]
This Wright thing is painful to watch (4.00 / 1)
All along, I have not bought into Obama's campaign because his talk of post-partisanship is disingenuous at best and dangerously naive at worst, not to mention insulting to anyone who was paying attention to the RW shitstorm unleashed on the Clintons in the 90s.  Eventually, either in the GE or as President, Obama would run into the real world of American politics, and I do not believe he can handle it.  And the country is in too disastrous a shape to have 4 years of paralyzed government.

It is at least better to have the Wright "issue" aired now rather than in the general, because we all know this is just a foretaste of what we can expect with Obama as the nominee.  For him, it is an opportunity.  If he can forcefully put this away, then he may bring skeptics like me around that he is ready for prime-time.  Regrettably, I think the proper way to "put this away" is to go nuclear on McCain's reaching out to people like Hagee, to shift the focus to the hateful rhetoric on the right, and of course doing that would be "shrill" and "partisan."

I agree that the postpartisan stuff is thin... (4.00 / 4)
   ...but I still much prefer Obama's approach along those lines, naive as it may be, than the Clinton approach of acknowledging a "right-wing conspiracy" and then doing everything possible to enable it.

  You WOULD think that the Clintons, having dealt with a barrage of right-wing attacks for decades, would be amenable to the development of a progressive infrastructure. But all they do is bash the netroots and do the right-wing media circuit on demand, most recently evidenced by Ferraro's O'Reilly tour...

  Give me Obama, any day. At least there's possibilities there.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
And in that regard (0.00 / 0)
Read "Story of a Story" on Politico this morning.

Most reporters thought Wright was an old story not worth revisiting.
Guess who pushed the story onto Fox News ?

[ Parent ]
defenses of Obama exist (4.00 / 1)
maybe the major A-list progressive bloggers haven't stepped up to Obama's defense; I don't know. However if you venture a bit further out into the long tail I think you will find plenty of bloggers, liberal and progressive alike, defending him. One example.

In fact you will even find conservatives like Daniel Larison and Captain's Quarter defending him. My own defense on the issue of Wright partly riffed off of Larison's point.

If theres any barrier here, it isnt because Obama is "post partisan" but because this is an issue of faith, which by the larger progressive community condescends towards. Most of the defenses of Obama are from a religious perspective, notably.  

It's also because progressives (4.00 / 4)
are mostly white and don't have a clue what's going on in the African-American community. They see an Angry Black Man talking about various forms oppression in the biblical prophetic style (call down that fire) and think it's radical. In fact, it's pretty damn normal.

What's unfortunate is that most of the progressive blogosphere didn't even try to understand.  

[ Parent ]
OK then, what is the rational (0.00 / 0)
progressive defense of "God Damn America" when it is going to be in 527 ads for McCain this fall?  You better tell us so we can start defending Obama now.

[ Parent ]
Prophetic Style (0.00 / 0)
That's what I've been saying here and there, illlaw. The people who are being shocked! shocked! are not people who've read Jeremiah in the Old Testament.  

[ Parent ]
Uh. I swear Armstrong actively attacked Wright (4.00 / 3)
Anyway, the fact that the progressive blogosphere and leading Democrats of the progressive stripe didn't defend Obama and Wright has probably sealed the fate of the Democratic party who clearly takes us African-Americans for granted but doesn't know a thing about us.

You can't allow one of the leading black preachers, who is all about fighting oppression, to be attacked (and in some instances lead the attack) and expect us African-Americans to go the the polls for you.

I'm not talking about the more militant African-Americans (well that's what I'd be considered but there are far more militant people than me) who are already done with Clinton and are starting to be done with the Democrats.

I'm talking about regular church going folks who are the most consistent voting group for the Democrats. Now that a black preacher has been attacked while multiple white preachers have been allowed to say whatever they want with no repercussions you'll have a serious drop off in the African-American vote if anyone but Obama is nominated. You don't attack, or allow to be attacked, preachers like Wright who was saying things to the African-American community about oppression here and imperialism abroad.  

Obama's on his own (4.00 / 1)
as far as I'm concerned, since he was content to sit still for the Clintons being pegged as racists.  With that success, I am convinced any charge can stick against anyone.  

Many of us black folks (0.00 / 0)
don't see a difference between being racist and playing one on TV. If Obama is on his own then so is the Democratic party. Not one Democratic President could be elected without the African-American vote.  

[ Parent ]
Now that is a statement to remeber (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
I am African American, and your comment is offensive (0.00 / 0)
So if someone doesn't defend Obama here they are what? Racist? You think of this with all that our community actually face as the example of racism? You need get your priorities straight. Your comment is why someone like Sharpe James was able to use the voters of Newark, against their own real interest, for years. People who don't give a shit about race using it to get their way.

[ Parent ]
Sorry sir. (0.00 / 0)
Our community faces what Rev. Wright says we face.  

[ Parent ]
I appreciate his service tot he community (0.00 / 0)
but the shit he said regarding AIDS for example is just crazy talk. Calling everyone who disagrees with you racists devalues the word. If everything is racist, nothing is.  

[ Parent ]
Well I'm sure we both know the AIDS (0.00 / 0)
theory has been floating out there for a long time. Crazy or not it's based in our valid suspicion of the US government. Tuskeegee certainly wasn't a crazy conspiracy theory though had it never come out people most certainly would have said it was.

I didn't hear him say that everyone who disagrees with him is a racist. You have a quote?

[ Parent ]
Issue (0.00 / 0)
Look I'm a Obama supporter, but this Wright issue irks me. You don't run for presidency, when you have associations with people like this.
You don't suddenly decide to run for presidency, you know it all along.
He became a senator and saw a opportunity this year and decided to jump in, nothing wrong there. Knowing this, why didn't he rebuke this man, 3 years ago, where was the foresight to see the danger of mixing with radicals like this.
Or the arrogrance in expectating that no one would notice, that noone would bring it up?

Maybe this is his test. He has the eloquence to pull it off. But it's a let down for his fans as it is for me.  

[ Parent ]
Ah you wanted Will Smith rather than a real black man. (0.00 / 0)
What evidence do you have that he thought no one would notice?

I have yet to see a GOPer suffer for their relationship with actually crazy right-wing religious figures. Are you saying America is hypocritical and racist? If so, then it wasn't ready to elect a black man anyway.  

[ Parent ]
CBC (0.00 / 0)
He is not running for Chairmanship of the Congressional Black Caucus he is runninf for President. There is no them and us.  

[ Parent ]
Obama - Pastor Wright (0.00 / 0)

Obama confronts the Pastor Wright issue head-on in this video.  No dodging, no evasiveness, just straight talk.
Pass it on....

i think everyone's sorta missing the point (4.00 / 1)
Obama's a good candidate and he should not be held accountable for what his pastor says.

Well, duh. But this is Dumberica, and he's a trailblazing black man, and plenty of "Reagan Democrat"-types are looking for any reason not to support him. This video footage gives them all that they need to write him off as a dangerous and divisive figure.

Therefore, it's worth discussing whether or not Obama can overcome this association in the general election. And don't give me polls (Kerry led Bush from March to August 2004) or McCain's Hagee association (there's a different standard for a white guy, especially one as well-liked as McCain among a broad range of demographics). As I see it, these videos hit all the traditional "scary angry black guy" buttons that could sink Obama among swing voters. He's already walking a fine line as a black candidate (and doing it extraordinarily well), but going forward with Obama as the nominee with these videos out there is playing with fire.

I've stayed neutral in this race to try to be a self-styled referee/strategist, so my only concern is which Democrat is best positioned to beat McCain, and these videos worry me - A LOT. More than Rezko, more than any of Hillary's negatives, way more than anything I've seen so far.

We need to have this discussion while we still have an opportunity to make a smart choice. That choice might be Obama, but I'm less inclined in that direction than I've been at any time thus far in the process.

Stick a fork in him (4.00 / 1)
Somebody who wasn't black, whose name wasn't "Barack Hussein Obama," might be able to weather this; in fact, they probably would. But let's face facts. For a black man to be elected in this country, especially with an exotic name like that, he has to be squeaky clean, with absolutely no taint of black nationalism or radicalism of any kind.

Michelle Obama has repeatedly made comments that are easily portrayed as anti-American. His pastor - not just some guy he knows, but his spiritual mentor, the source of his book's title - uses rhetoric that could have come straight out of a speech by Malcolm X (in some cases, literally - "chickens coming home to roost"). His church heaps praise on Louis Farrakhan, who truly is a vile figure, not someone who has been unfairly demonized.

We need to be honest about the situation before us: the front-runner for the nomination is in total free fall. He just lost primaries in two major states, one of them by double digits. He will probably lose another major primary in April, possibly by double digits again. If John McCain were still getting trounced in primaries by Huckabee, none of us would deny that it meant he was in big trouble.

You can dismiss the Reverend Wright stuff out of hand if you want. That's what Democrats did when confronted with the Swift Boat vets. The issue is not whether you think these attacks are fair. It's whether they will be effective in constructing a narrative about Obama that will lead to his eventual defeat. Of all candidates, Obama cannot afford to have attacks on his patriotism and loyalty to his country be granted any kind of credibility whatsoever. Rev. Wright, Michelle Obama, and his church's association with Farrakhan make it much, much easier to paint Obama this way. Middle America will not find him acceptable.

If and when Obama is nominated, we can start to try to mount an effective defense of him, but frankly, I'm not sure there is one. His whole pitch about his superior judgment is fatally flawed. The comments made by Wright and Michelle are what they are. The attack on Obama will have the advantage of being in some sense true: He surrounds himself with people who do not subscribe to the view that America has been primarily a force for good. I happen to agree with them, but that's a proposition that the vast majority of Americans, especially those in the "heartland," find highly offensive.

Stick a fork in the democrats (0.00 / 0)
If and when Obama is nominated, we can start to try to mount an effective defense of him, but frankly, I'm not sure there is one.

So I'm assuming you believe the Clintons will fare better with right-wing media than Obama.  You gotta be kiddin' me!

Now is time for leftist bloggers to fight back.  It doesn't matter if it's Obama or Clinton, MSM will derail the democratic candidacy.

[ Parent ]
You vastly underestimate the American people (0.00 / 0)
and your concern is unjustified.  All of this stuff has been around for years and nothing's ever come of it.  If there was really something destructive here, Clinton and McCain would have dropped it on him already, but they haven't, and he's fought back extremely well, so far as I've seen, and he has no association with any controversial organizations and individuals.  When facing such accusations, he's always been forthcoming and effective in his rebuttal and denunciation, as in this instance.  

The idea that we should be so considered about the "heartland" and "middle America" is ridiculous - he got a lot of support in the more conservative parts of Illinois, and is thriving in the red states, and I will NOT allow the concerned racism of any kind from any person, implicit or explicit, dictate my choice for 2008, and nor should anyone else.

[ Parent ]
The primary is not the general (0.00 / 0)
To move from the premise:

X hasn't hurt him in the primaries

to the conclusion:

X won't hurt him in the general election

is a non sequitur. There's always stuff that's harmless to, or even helps, a candidate in the primaries, but that hurts him in the general. The Swift Boat Vets couldn't have hurt Kerry in the primaries, because loyal Democrats weren't buying their BS. Things were different in the general.

That McCain hasn't gone after Obama on this (or has he? I don't know) is irrelevant. He has no incentive to do so right now.  

[ Parent ]
I disagree (0.00 / 0)
your suggestion seems to imply, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Obama won't lose a super narrow election in which his loss would be attributed to his involvement in the church rallying conservatives to the polling place.  My interpretation was that a lot of Republicans, middle of the road moderates, independents, and even a good number of Democrats wouldn't go out and support him in November.

If that is what you're saying, I would disagree, because I think anybody who is leaning towards voting for Democrat right now, and especially all those loyal Democrats (and new ones that he's bringing in from urban centers and red state communities) are not going to jump ship and vote for McCain or not vote at all.  The desire for something new, something changed, in our government, is so great that it will overwhelm the few I believe would consider voting on such an issue.  

Thus, I suspect that his strong support among Democrats is not going anywhere, and that while this may hurt him marginally, in the long run his strong primary support (even from groups that would have been logically turned off by this Wright stuff) indicates that people are sticking with him, despite the fact that this stuff has been out there before.

[ Parent ]
Not sure (4.00 / 1)
I'm having a hard time parsing your first paragraph, but essentially I'm saying that Obama will lose the same way Kerry did: the GOP will convince a lot of independent/swing voters that he is not a patriot, that he is not a loyal American, that he is not "one of us." The Swift Boat thing hurt badly enough, and they were just making stuff up out of whole cloth. Here, they actually have some ammunition. Rev. Wright's remarks are unambiguously subversive. "Jesus was black" is alone enough to get white people's panties in a bunch, but "God damn America"? Instead of singing "God Bless America," black people should be singing "God Damn America"? It is almost impossible to overstate how radioactive such a comment is. Obama's disavowed it, which is good, but this wasn't an isolated incident.

That he hasn't yet suffered because of Wright doesn't mean much. No one has really made a big deal of this yet. I had heard vague things about Wright before, but only yesterday did I hear the specific quotes, and watch him deliver the sermons on You Tube. This is just now hitting. And again, it's more damaging in the general anyway. Democratic primary voters are in general more rational, and less reactionary, than the electorate as a whole.

You can have blind faith in the American people if you want. You can trust that they won't let stupid shit like this decide their vote. But history doesn't inspire much confidence in that proposition. A lot of people were convinced that John Kerry, a distinguished, patrician war hero, was an anti-American, pro-terrorist radical. What makes you think they won't be able to convince people that Barack Hussein Obama is the same thing?

[ Parent ]
For me (0.00 / 0)
and I suspect this is where we differ, is that I believe that the American electorate is of a different composition and a fundamentally different mindset in 2008 than in 2003 and 2004.  I don't have empirical evidence to back that up or anything, it's just my personal perception of the matter.  

My faith and trust aren't blind, and I'm not saying it's impossible that you're right.  It's just that people care so little for these irrelevant personal attacks, especially when they are effectively countered by the campaign (as is true in this instance), that Obama will be able to overcome this issue.  

I simply believe the country on the whole is so hungry and desperate for change in the economy, on the war, everything, that there's no way they'll vote for McCain in the general, and the vast majority of them will vote for Obama if he's the nominee.

[ Parent ]
A few things (4.00 / 1)
I will grant that it's not completely impossible that the structural advantages for Democrats are simply so strong this year that they cannot be overcome. However, that doesn't seem to be reflected in any tangible evidence. Polls show McCain losing to Hillary or Obama, but only by a few points, the same way Bush was losing to Kerry early on. It's basically tied, which suggests that there simply hasn't been a wholesale rejection of the GOP across the country. (The Republicans got extraordinarily lucky by not having a sitting VP running; if this election were Obama/Hillary vs. a member of the Bush administration, it wouldn't be close. The only reason they even have a chance is that they're running somebody who can, sorta plausibly if you squint and you're already kind of dull, present himself as a change of pace.)

It's possibly that the electorate is wiser and more enlightened this time out, but four years is a very short time for that kind of sea change. Clearly people are sick of Bush, sick of the war, sick of the economy. But stupid bullshit ALWAYS plays a role in elections. Sometimes it can be overcome (Clinton and the Gennifer Flowers stuff), sometimes it can't (Kerry and the Swift Boat vets). Some stupid bullshit is more of a problem than other stupid bullshit.

Since this election strongly favors the Democrat, we should win as long as we put up a candidate who is generally acceptable and doesn't scare the bejesus out of people. People don't love Hillary, to be sure, but they're not scared of her. She's a known quantity. I think a lot of people - especially older people, especially white people who live in areas without a lot of cultural diversity - don't inherently fear Obama, but can easily be made to. The problem with the Wright stuff is that it gives some substance to what would otherwise be baseless innuendo. It gives them something to point to besides the guy's name.  

[ Parent ]
Black Jesus? (0.00 / 0)
I'm pretty sure that all American Christians, even in Jerry Falwell's flock, have seen a portrait of a black Jesus. It's a common motif, at least as realistic as the 19th-century blue-eyed blond Jesus, and not an image that would drive any American Christian batshit.

[ Parent ]
But Geraldine told me he was lucky (0.00 / 0)
to be black because it's an advantage.  I'm so confused.

[ Parent ]
That's funny... (0.00 / 0)
Is there any way we can contact Ferraro?  I would totally say that, recusancy.

[ Parent ]
in the primary, obviously (0.00 / 0)
The same advantage it brings him in the Democratic primary works against him in the general.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, false dichotomies abound (4.00 / 1)
I haven't looked at Ferraro's comments closely, so I don't know whether they were racist or not, but obviously Obama's background is one of his selling points. He himself points to it, and many of his supporters have done so all along. When Andy Sullivan or Rosa Brooks advocates for Obama on the grounds that he will be a "transformative" president, his ethnic and cultural background has a lot to do with that.

Here's the thing: if Barack Obama's name were Bradley Oglethorpe, and he was a white guy, would he be the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic nomination, after a stint in the state senate and a half-term in Congress? Impossible to say for sure, but I think it's arguable that he wouldn't be. For one thing, much of his success so far is due to overwhelming support from the black community; it is likely that only a black candidate would have been able to pull so many of these voters away from Clinton. And in a broader sense, part of Obama's appeal is what he represents in terms of history and social progress. There's nothing wrong with that.

But at the same time, it will also probably make things more difficult for him in the long run. Something can be a strength and a weakness at the same time; in fact, that's usually how it works. Bill Clinton is arguably Hillary's greatest strength and her greatest weakness. The GOP's reliance on the Southern Strategy is their great strength, but also may end up a weakness. Dubya's linguistic ineptitude. Kerry's military service. Gore's intelligence. Howard Dean's passion. Etc. Ultimately, Obama does have a tougher road to hoe because of his name and his skin color, but he's done what he can to use those things to his advantage. Which is to his credit.

[ Parent ]
i'm impressed (0.00 / 0)
I'm giving you fours left and right today. Seriously, kudos on a series of really thoughtful and, to my mind, insightful posts.

The only thing worse than Obama getting undeservedly torpedoed over his association with a controversial preacher would be if he ends up taking the Democratic party down with him in the general election. Which is why I really hope that the party takes this issue seriously NOW while there's still a chance to choose a different course if deemed necessary. I didn't think it was gonna be a problem until I saw the videos. Yikes.

Perhaps the party can rally around this Oglethorpe fellow as a compromise candidate?

[ Parent ]
Dukakis in a tank (0.00 / 0)
If Obama has to use more than two sentences to defuse the impact of those videos, he's toast.  This is politics.  Nobody wants a lecture on black liberation theology.

Comparing Wright and Obama to Huckabee ... (0.00 / 0)
The best defense I've seen so far is a counter-attack: why is the media making so much hay about the sermons of Barack Obama's minister, when we never heard about any sermons from Mike Huckabee -- who was ACTUALLY running for President!

As this Daily Kos story (which was on the front page) points out, "are we to believe that he didn't rail against the US government over abortion in previous sermons? Or homosexuality?  We know what he had to say about AIDS victims. I don't imagine one gets to be the be president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention without passionate fire and brimstone sermons as part of his repertoire."

Let's throw it back to them.


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