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The Truth Shall Make You Mad

Presumably it was either Fox News or someone at Hillary Clinton's campaign who only just discovered that many of the sermons from Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who converted Barack Obama from atheism to Christianity were video recorded and are available online. Having seen them, they want everybody to see them, because it is 100% clear to them that the man was insane. They also take it for granted that when you hear what the man had to say, you'll also conclude that the man was insane. And, in fact, judging by Friday's news cycle, they were right about this; even Barack Obama himself has claimed that he strongly condemns some of Pastor Wright's statements, and did the rounds of every major news analysis show Friday night to make sure that everybody knows that he doesn't agree with what's on those clips.

I watched a bunch of those clips.

Jeremiah Wright is not insane.

He does, however, know a lot of things that fall under one of the main categories of Forbidden Lore: your own country's historical misdeeds. And by the public's standards, repeated exposure to Forbidden Lore has driven him "insane." As a matter of fact, I've heard nothing so far from pastor Wright that I haven't said myself. Most of it, in this blog. If you have been reading this blog for a long time and paying attention, you should be able to defend every single one of them. None of the history that pastor Wright talked about in those video clips, or that I've talked about in this blog, is particularly secret. The parts that once were, those secrets got "blown" at least a decade ago. Nor is he in any legal trouble for saying them, nor I for writing them, and neither one of us are going to end up in Guantanamo Bay for calling them to your attention. No, what makes these things "forbidden lore" is that they're the kind of things you think, mistakenly, that your newspaper, your TV news shows, your history teacher, and so forth would have told you about if they were true. So they must not be true.

That all those people would have "conspired" to keep you in the dark about history that you really ought to know about if it were true seems implausible to you. And if it were an overt secretive conspiracy involving all the people who ought to have told you these things and didn't, yes, it would be a logically impossible conspiracy. Some people do get obsessed with trying to figure out how such a conspiracy could have really worked, come to really foolish false conclusions, and actually make themselves not just socially insane but actually clinically insane, paranoid psychotic, looking for evidence of the vast conspiracy that made so many people lie to them. But no actual conspiracy is needed, not when everybody in America who counts as "sane" shares one important common interest: they want you to be proud of your country, and they think that means that you have to be proud of everything America has ever done or else you won't be. So if there is anything they know that they know would make you ashamed of your country if you knew about it, they mostly won't tell you. The reason that none of this stuff stays secret is that there still are journalists who merit the name, in America and elsewhere, who think that you can still be proud of America and what it stands for but you need to know this stuff. All of it's seen print, at least once. But the public, who just plain don't want to know it (there's that "forbidden lore" angle again), stayed away in droves, and those who accidentally heard it forgot it as fast as possible, so that they can stay "sane."

One more thing about this caught my attention. Here's one of the things that Senator Obama said about this in his appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Friday night. (If you're looking at the video clip on the Countdown website, which thanks to MSNBC's crappy web design I can't link directly to, it starts at roughly the 4:40 mark, to about the 5:25 mark.)
Now, one thing that I do hope to do, is, to use some of these issues to talk more fully about the question of race in our society. Because part of what we're seeing here is, Reverend Wright represents a generation that came of age in the '60s. He is an African-American man who, because of his life experience, continues to have a lot of anger and and frustration, and will express that in ways that are very different from me and my generation, partly because I benefited from the struggles of that early generation. And so part of what we're seeing here is a transition from the past to the future. And I hope that our politics represent that future.
You know that argument that came up in black America, egged on by right wingers, over whether or not Barack Obama is "really black enough" to represent black America? If Barack Obama thinks that the only black men in America who grew up being called niggers were the ones who grew up in the 60s? If Barack Obama thinks that the only black men who get pulled over for Driving While Black and get patted down by police everywhere they go are those who grew up in the 60s? Then maybe he did grow up in a privileged (and largely outside-the-US) environment. Maybe the man really does need a wakeup call. Maybe he doesn't need to be repudiating Jeremiah Wright. Maybe Jeremiah Wright needs to be repudiating Barack Obama. Maybe Reverend Jeremiah Wright has more call to be ashamed of Barack Obama than Barack Obama has to be ashamed of Reverend Wright.

Because unless he's pandering to white ignoramuses who think that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to blame the CIA's illegal war in Nicaragua for the crack cocaine epidemic, that he's "obviously insane" to think that the US's own CIA were the ones who originally trained al Qaeda and the Taliban in terrorism and sponsored their terrorist attacks against the then-pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to think that Hillary Clinton can't fully understand the indignity of being called a nigger the whole time you're growing up or the indignity of being constantly pulled over and searched by police when you're doing nothing wrong because those things have never happened to her, that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to think that America will be judged harshly by God for explicitly racist drug war policies, unless the people who think those things are people that Obama is dishonestly pandering to in order to allay their bigoted fears? Then that man needs a good, hard wake-up call. Because if he agrees with white ignoramuses and bigots that those ideas are all "crazy" and that only "crazy people" are angry over them, then I'm not ashamed of Obama for what his pastor preached, I'm ashamed of him for not believing it when he was told.

(Damn it, I didn't set out to be famous for writing about race. Telling the truth about race in America is turning out to be my version of taping bacon to the cat. One of the things that's driving up my in-bound link count lately is the last set of things I wrote about race in America. And in every single blog that linked to it, the commenters on those blogs have entirely justifiably pointed out that none of what I'm saying about race is new, or original, or even particularly controversial to professional historians. It saddens me that so many people think it is. To quote a line from one of my all-time favorite comic book limited series, Steve Darnall and Alex Ross's U.S., when a dilapidated and confused Uncle Sam asks a symbol of black America why he's tormenting him with memories of American slavery and racism, "Because you need to know! That's why! Because you have a tendency to forget these things.")


( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2008 09:43 am (UTC)
Catch 22
This is the political bed Barack has made. Whether he is capable of sleeping in it remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt he can because he seems not to have the psycho-emotional scar tissue of really growing up black in America.

Mar. 15th, 2008 10:03 am (UTC)
Mar. 15th, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting that.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 15th, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
Seconded, sadly.
(no subject) - brooklynite - Mar. 15th, 2008 12:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Mar. 15th, 2008 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - littlebreeze - Mar. 15th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kimchalister - Mar. 15th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kynn - Mar. 16th, 2008 05:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2008 12:52 pm (UTC)
I haven't had the time to watch all the clips myself, but I did see where Wright was quoted as having said that the US government "invent[ed] the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color."

You buy that? And if not, doesn't it kind of complicate your argument?
Mar. 15th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
No, hadn't heard that one. I'd want to see/hear it in context; I suspect, in light of how much he's gotten right, it's being misquoted or misinterpreted. But if he did say that, he's wrong about that one.

But remember what I said above: knowing things that other people insist can't possibly be true, and knowing them beyond all shadow of a doubt, does cause paranoia in all but the most sturdy.
(no subject) - ubiquitous_a - Mar. 15th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kynn - Mar. 16th, 2008 03:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kimchalister - Mar. 15th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rozasharn - Mar. 16th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kimchalister - Mar. 16th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inquisitiveravn - Mar. 23rd, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hick0ry - Mar. 16th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
A lot of people are asking the question "Is America ready for a black president?" And a lot of people are answering "I don't think so."

I think that's not the question they're really trying to ask though, or that they're really answering. Like Lunkwill and Fook, many Americans have arrived at the proper answer without framing the question properly.

The proper question should be, "Are Americans ready to face the fact that they were, and remain, racist, with a wealth of unfair legislation aimed concordantly with those racist ideals?"
Mar. 15th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
I have been asking myself these questions about all the statements that Dr Jeremiah has made in these video clips. 1- so far I have heard know one dispute what he said weather it true are not. all I hear these taking heads say it hate speech. knowing my American history every word he said is 100% true, our foreign policies, is one-sided when it comes to Isreal and the palestians and how we treat those who don't think like us and look like us. let us remember Martin luther King was condemned in his time for speaking out against the war in vietnam, and a high percentage of the American people disdained him for it. let us also remember Jesus was also condemned in time for speaking out against the religious leaders of his time he called them a "generation vipers" would that be consider hate speech. what we need today are more Jeremiah Wright, people who are not afraid to speak out, if you see your Nation going down the slippery slope to destruction why would you not want to warn the people. This Man Jeremiah Wright loves America that's why he is crying out..
Mar. 15th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
He may love America, but he clearly doesn't love Barack Obama or want him to be elected President.
He reminds me of people who want to vote for Ralph Nader -- they'd rather be right than do right. (there's a reason "ralph" means vomit....)
Re: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.. - kynn - Mar. 16th, 2008 03:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.. - kimchalister - Mar. 16th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.. - kynn - Mar. 16th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.. - kimchalister - Mar. 17th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
While many of the things he has said may have viability, the problem is that his particular brand of extreme viewpoint isn't terribly helpful in getting Obama elected president. I suppose in a way its a relief that the candidates themselves seem to be behaving themselves (at least on the surface), and its the various supporters in their camps that seem to be making all of the screwups.

I do find it hard to believe that someone in the Obama camp didn't discourage this man's participation in the campaign, considering that anyone with an internet connection could dig this stuff up.

Just because something is (or might be) true, doesn't mean that anyone's going to take it well or jump on your bandwagon when you shout it from the rooftops. And while it's sad to consider, that's even more true if you're trying to get elected President.
Mar. 15th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry you didn't get your sanity break, and ended up writing this. It is good. I did like the U.S graphic novel you linked; I frequently think of the convention with the speech that includes 'fear change'.

And... yeah, I see how one could go nuts thinking about these things.
Mar. 16th, 2008 05:14 am (UTC)
That Obama chose to publicly distance himself from Rev. Wright is a pragmatic, statesman like, act I can admire. It really doesn't matter if everything Rev. Wright says is true.

Although his message of 'hope' does wear a bit thin at times Obama has just demonstrated that he means what he says.

MLK had a dream, Obama has hope. I'll take that over nihilism any day.

Compare that act with Clinton's way of dealing with Ferraro.

Mar. 16th, 2008 06:31 am (UTC)
Although not perfectly analogous, this reminds me a little of FDR:

Roosevelt's record on civil rights has been the subject of much controversy. He was a hero to large minority groups, especially African-Americans, Catholics and Jews. African-Americans and Native Americans fared well in the New Deal relief programs, although they were not allowed to hold significant leadership roles in the WPA and CCC. Roosevelt needed the support of Southern Democrats for his New Deal programs, and therefore decided not to push for anti-lynching legislation that might threaten his ability to pass his highest priority programs. Roosevelt was highly successful in attracting large majorities of African-Americans, Jews and Catholics into his New Deal coalition. Beginning in 1941 Roosevelt issued a series of executive orders designed to guarantee racial, religious and ethnic minorities a fair share of the new wartime jobs. He pushed for admission of African-Americans into better positions in the military. In 1942 Roosevelt made the final decision in ordering the internment of Japanese, Italian and German Americans (Many not released until well after the War's end) during World War II. Beginning in the 1960s he was charged[81] with not acting decisively enough to prevent or stop the Holocaust which killed 6 million Jews. Critics cite episodes such as when in 1939, the 950 Jewish refugees on board the SS St. Louis were denied asylum and not allowed into the United States.

... in that, you have a politician who seems sympathetic to minorities, and who has a strong social agenda that also benefits minorities, but falls far short of what he could do for them, and even does some terrible things. Why? Partly pragmatism, partly fear, partly... I don't know. Yet, for all his failings, FDR did more for minorities than many other politicians of his time probably would have done. What do you say about that? It's bittersweet.

Similarly, Obama. Obama doesn't come out and say that his pastor is crazy or disown him, but he does softly repudiate the comments. That's sad, and that's not right, but he probably had to do it to win, and he did no more than the absolute minimum necessary.

Is Obama willing to publicly whitewash history to get ahead? Looks like it. But maybe only publicly, maybe not privately. It looks like he heard these truths, to some extent, and he'll probably continue to hear these truths. Maybe the words of his pastor will help shape his public policy. That's not quite right, exactly, but maybe it's a little better than how we are now.

Obama's not a messiah, he's a politician. The leash on what he does (and even moreso, on what he says) is very short. The test of the character of a politician is what they do with the leeway that the public will give them. Hell, you've pointed that out.
Mar. 19th, 2008 08:26 am (UTC)
Is Obama willing to publicly whitewash history to get ahead? Looks like it.

... Or maybe not. I think Obama's latest speech is incredible. I haven't seen this kind of clarity and honesty from a politician since... I don't know if I've ever seen it.

Edited at 2008-03-19 08:26 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 17th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
Race has become a complex 'chicken or egg' issue. Brad chooses to paint it in a way that MLK didn't. I see a bit of MLK in Obama, and he has the credentials. His experience is significant. Near as I can figure every black must vote for him unless they are fixated on what is rather than what might be.

We'll see what happens in a few months?
Mar. 17th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
Compromise is part of life. If people are goning to harp about how Obama "must stand on principle" or else lose their vote, they will throw the White House back to the Republicans again.

I'm so fucking mad about those "Hillary or nobody" voters, like the ones who decided to boycott DailyKos because they felt it was too "anti-Clinton." Between them and the "he's not Black enough" loudmouths, we will once again have fallen to the "divide and conquer" game. Hell, a bit more of this bullshit and the 'Pubs won't even have to steal the election again. The rancor between Democrat/ Leftist/ Progressive hard-liners will have done their job for them!

Is Wright correct in his criticisms? Mostly, yes. Does he have a right to be furious? Absolutely. Will it cost him (and us) the first viable Black candidate for the Oval Office, and a real hope for change? Very possibly, especially if people keep insisting that Obama embrace phrases like "I hate America" in order to retain his integrity. As many intelligent reformers have learned over time, in order to change the furniture around, you first have to get in the fucking house. Note, I don't consider Wright an intelligent reformer. He's a firebrand. That may be great if you're a preacher, but it's not helpful if you want to actually change the problem rather than critize it.

Me, I'm wondering when the Democrats/ Leftists/ Progressives will get a fucking clue and do what the Right-wingers did: put aside petty differences, unite, waltz in together, and take charge (and then fuck things up...).

And I'd really love to see some brave journalist dig up choice quotes from John McCain's "buddies" Pat "raise the dead, kill Chavez" Robertson and the folks at Bob "white boys rule" Jone University. Y'know, maybe put the Republicans on the defensivewhere they belong. Because at the rate we're going, the Left is going to give us four more years of Right-wing domination.
Mar. 17th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
What am I missing?

I keep seeing the idea that this is super-problematic for Obama, but I'm not seeing why this mud* is particularly likely to stick---why everyone thinks this will be so effective in persuading a big segment of society not to vote for him. It doesn't seem so to me; I'm having huge trouble modeling the voter in my head who was going to vote for Obama in the general, after all the other mud that will get thrown, but now won't, because of Pastor Wright. I mean, I'm sure there are hundreds, but are there really tens of thousands?

* where by "mud" I mean the cherry-picking "God Damn America" instead of "God Damn America for X" and the excessive focus on pastor Wright in the first place. Obviously the basic story that he has a pastor who uses strong words is true.
(no subject) - kimchalister - Mar. 17th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 18th, 2008 05:09 am (UTC)
Excellent post! Pretty perceptive for a white boy. Agree or disagree with Rev. Wright. He has the courage of his convictions, which is more than I can say for Barack.

Jonathan David Farley also had some interesting things to say:

So many are mistaking Obama for a leader but he is just another politician.
Apr. 24th, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)
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( 37 comments — Leave a comment )