Thanks to Barack Obama there is a newer definition of Chutzpah. The old definition of Chutzpah is a guy who kills his mother and father and begs the court to show him mercy because he is an orphan. The new definition is a presidential candidate who runs on a platform of uniting the country but is really the most divisive candidate we have had in decades:
The Great Divider
Democratic front-runner Barack Obama was supposed to unite the country, overcoming racial and even partisan division. How’s that working out? As far as bridging the partisan divide, one may give him credit, but only in a backhanded way. His not-quite-insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination has had the consequence of creating a tactical alliance between Hillary Clinton and Republicans, so that Mrs. Clinton has, at least for the moment, joined the vast right-wing conspiracy, as we noted last month. Mrs. Clinton even got the endorsement of Richard Scaife’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary. But a corollary to this is that his own party is divided–among other ways, along racial lines. The New York Times has some evidence:
The third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and one of the country’s most influential African-American leaders sharply criticized former President Bill Clinton [Thursday] afternoon for what he called Mr. Clinton’s “bizarre” conduct during the Democratic primary campaign.
Representative James E. Clyburn, an undeclared superdelegate from South Carolina who is the Democratic whip in the House, said that “black people are incensed over all of this,” referring to statements that Mr. Clinton had made in the course of the heated race between his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama. . . .
In an interview with The New York Times late Thursday, Mr. Clyburn said Mr. Clinton’s conduct in this campaign had caused what might be an irreparable breach between Mr. Clinton and an African-American constituency that once revered him. “When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar,” Mr. Clyburn said. “I think black folks feel strongly that that this [sic] is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation.”
We were initially inclined to see this Clyburn’s way; there months ago, we opined that it was invidious for Mr. Clinton to liken Obama to Jesse Jackson after the South Carolina primary. But this was before we learned of Obama’s relationship with “spiritual mentor” Jeremiah Wright, a practitioner of “black liberation theology” who has called America the “U.S. of KKK A.” Hugh Hewitt has unearthed another sermon, in which Wright declares that America is doing “the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag.” Although Obama has denounced some of Wright’s remarks, he has not specified which ones, and he has said, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.” In fact, Politico’s Ben Smith reported last week that Obama’s campaign distributed a handbill in Philadelphia before the primary that touted the candidate’s relationship with Wright. Wright himself resurfaced last week, sitting for an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers. It was an embarrassing softball affair in which Moyers at times was even less sensible than Wright. At one point Wright rightly observed that “we have the freedom here in this country” to denounce our government, “whereas [in] some other places, you’re dead if [you] say the wrong thing about your government.” To which Moyers replied, “Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you’ve said here in this country.” Which is true, if being “almost crucified” means being subjected to harsh criticism. By that definition, Wright has almost crucified America on many a Sunday. During the interview, Wright had this to say about Obama:
He’s a politician, I’m a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do.
Yet at the beginning of the interview, Wright explained that from the start, he has taken a political approach to the ministry:
Wright: Actually a good friend of yours, I believe, and one of my professors, got me in the predicament I’m in today, Dr. Martin Marty, one of my professors at the University of Chicago–
Moyers: One of the great distinguished historians of religion in America.
Wright: He put a challenge to us in 1970, late ’69, early ’70, I’ll never forget. He said, “You know, you come into the average church on a Sunday morning and you think you’ve stepped from the real world into a fantasy world. And what do I mean by that?” He said pick up the church bulletin. You leave a world, Vietnam, or today you leave a world, Iraq, over 4,000 dead, American boys and girls, 100,000, 200,000 depending on which count, Iraqi dead. Afghanistan, Darfur, rapes in the Congo, Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward, that’s the world you leave.
He said, “How come our bulletins, how come the faith preached in our churches does not relate to the world in which our church members leave at the benediction?” . . . What do we do in ministry that speaks to the community and the world in which we sit? That’s Martin Marty. That’s Martin Marty.
Needless to say, Moyers did not confront Wright about this contradiction. Politico’s Smith has another charming example of unifying rhetoric coming from the Obama campaign:
[Obama campaign manager] David Plouffe tells [National Journal’s] Linda Douglass that real racists are probably voting Republican in any case:
“The vast, vast majority of voters who would not vote for Barack Obama in November based on race are probably firmly in John McCain’s camp already,” he says.
We agree with Wright on one thing: Obama is a politician, and “he does what politicians do.” By the standards of politics–that is, besting opponents at the ballot box–Obama has done quite well, a lot better than most people expected when Mrs. Clinton was inevitable. But by the standards his supporters have set for him–transcending the differences that divide the country–one would be hard-pressed to say he’s been even modestly successful.