Remembering the times when, like Obama, I didn’t walk out

Following up on Barack Obama’s speech About Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the issue of race, I decided to spend a little time visiting pro-Clinton sites. I had actually already started doing this from time to time even before the Wright controversy, hoping, as an Obama supporter, to avoid the tunnel vision that can come from only listening to the hymns sung by your own choir.

But to be honest, I’m finding it harder and harder to go back.
The glee — no, more like self-righteous ecstasy — awash in these sites over the Wright controversy is becoming more than I at least want to take. What I guess is starting to overwhelm my senses is the clear willingness of many vocal Clinton supporters to overlook the undeniable racist element to the issue (as reflected in the inconsistent treatment of Wright’s comments as compared to those of controversial white clergy). Instead, they are luxuriating in the sheer joy of seeing Obama damaged, seemingly unconcerned with such details. 

(In fairness, the Clinton campaign itself is, at least officially, standing clear of the controversy — or perhaps not.)

Here’s an example from BartCop, a site I have had some fondness for in the past. The main text is a reader’s email; the words in bold are from Bart himself:

Bart, Obama has attended this church for twenty years.
He brings his impressionable daughters to hear this hateful speech every Sunday?
Good point.
How in the world can we heal the racial divide if black children listen to this hatred?
How can these children listen to this kind of racially charged demagoguery on Sunday
and then sit next to white classmates on Monday and not feel hatred?
If you are taught to respect the pastor, how can these children grow up without hating white people?
If Barack Obama truly wanted to heal the racial divide, he would not participate in a church
that does not embrace people of all colors and races. If he truly believes in the the teachings
Pastor Wright and his church, how can he be the leader of the USA?
If he did not condone this hatred, he would have quit the church long ago.
Instead, he had Pastor Wright as his campaign spiritual advisor.

“Good point,” huh? So, I take it then, Bart, that you’ve concluded that Trinity United Church of Christ — a congregation of several thousand people — is unfit for small children. I mean, that has to be what you’re saying, right? It can’t be unfit for Obama’s kids, but okay for everyone else’s — only a hypocrite taking a cheap shot would suggest that.   
So, Bart, I’d be interested in knowing exactly what research you did to support this condemnation. In case you’re interested — and I’m guessing you’re not — I have done some. And it doesn’t even begin to support your slander. Trinity UNC is in many ways an extraordinary church, with anything but a separatist philosophy, always welcoming to white visitors, and with a strong tradition of public service. Even Rev. Wright himself, while at times controversial, is nothing like the caricature that’s been painted of him.

Do you care about that Bart? Do you give a rat’s ass, or is this just a golden opportunity, probably the best one remaining, to bring Obama down so that your candidate can prevail (although don’t count on that being the outcome if Obama does falter)?

The post in question is fairly typical of what can be found in the reader comments at pro-Clinton sites (and in pro-Clinton posts at places like the Democratic Underground). One very common comment you’ll find in these venues goes something like this: “If I had ever heard someone say something hateful like that (Wright’s words), I would have walked out in a second.”
To be honest, I don’t know whether to question the sincerity of such comments, or to marvel at the cloistered lives such people must have lived.
Having lived most of 52 years, I’ve heard more people say inappropriate things, of one sort or another, than I can count. And, no, my response hasn’t always been to storm off in protest. Holier-than-thou only gets you so far in this life. Sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes have to weigh the good against the bad. And sometimes you have to accept the truth that there’s more to people than the sum of their verbal excesses.
That’s why I’ve consistently opposed the modern tendency to run public figures out of town on a rail based, not on their life’s work, but on one or more isolated stupid comments. We need to face up to the fact that sometimes good people say ugly things.
Let me give you an example that will offend some people. In times of great anger or fear, I’ve on occasion heard basically good people use hateful language they would normally find deeply offensive, including even racist language. Is speaking that way wrong? Yes, of course, it is, but it doesn’t necessarily define the person. And, no, I haven’t written all of these people off as a result, or even dramatically walked out of the room on each occasion.
My guess is that a large percentage of Americans have at least one relative or close friend of the family who’s something of a bigot, at least in some sense of the word. The advocates of the “I would walk out” philosophy (or at least that’s what they say their philosophy is when judging others), would suggest, I suppose, people should simply write off these people. But is that the only right answer?
We don’t know how many of Rev. Wright’s most controversial comments Obama heard, but he admits to hearing some. I suppose he could have followed the advice of the armchair quarterbacks and walked out. But the thing is he wouldn’t just have been walking away from those few offensive words; he would also have been walking away from a congregation that based upon everything I’ve been able to read is filled with love and service to the community.
Personally, I’ll be happiest with a president who doesn’t find that quite as obvious a choice as some of the Clinton backers now claim it to be.

Update: BartCop “responds.”

I respond to BartCop.

4 Responses to “Remembering the times when, like Obama, I didn’t walk out”

  1. juliinjax Says:

    Sorry to say, Steve, but I have walked out on a church or two because of things the pastor or priest said. Then again, I was raised a secular humanist, so my attempts to connect with the church community were leaps of faith, and the level of commitment on my part were about as strong as commitments to quit smoking and visit the YMCA three times a week. Good intentions, but it never lasts very long.
    I don’t really know what it is like to be part of a particular church family, or how hard it would be to have to choose between one’s faith and one’s ambitions or aspirations. I do believe that this controversy over the preachings of Jeremiah Wright are a desperatly sought distraction from the true obscenities and offensive actions of the current administration and its COLLABORATORS: our troops held hostage in Iraq, offered as human sacrifice to the evil AQI, or is it the extremists, or insurgents…? Whomsoever we are fighting over THERE so we don’t have to fight them OVER HERE.
    I am only grateful that Obama was able to turn this useless bit of fake controversy into the start of a real discussion on perceptions of race and the component of fear that keeps people, humans each and every one, separated, segregated and thereby less powerful than when we are working together as one.

  2. alwayshope Says:

    There have been times when I have stood up and times when I didn’t.
    You have to pick your battles I guess. (and being from Indiana, do I know some bigots? Does a bear…)

    Juliinjax is right about this being a “desperatly sought distraction” and I too am grateful and happy that Obama has handled it in an adult fashion. There are just too many issues we don’t really discuss anymore and it’s shameful.
    It’s difficult to have a real discussion when our very language has been so perverted by these ruthless bastards. “Enemy combatants” who have no rights as humans, “enhanced interrogation” which isn’t torture but is or might be depending on your definition, “ownership society” which encouraged predatory loans. They make up words and phrases in order to break the law and then they get away with it. They could commit murder and call it personal relinquishment and claim since there’s no law against relinquishment, they have committed no crime.
    If the damn newspeople would do their jobs and start exposing the twisted, brutal logic of these mosters, we could forget about Rev. Wright’s passionate observations and turn this country around.
    And why doesn’t McCain have to explain the rantings from the religious right? These guys spew hate every day that gives me chills and no one on the right has to bear the weight of their hateful words.

    The key is, as always, divide and conquer. And do it in the most Orwellian way possible just for fun, that’s the way the ‘great uniter’ likes it.

  3. Larkrise Says:

    Steve, I have never walked out of Church, because, I am glad to say, I have never been subjected to a venom-filled homily or preaching. If I had, and you knew me well, you would know that I would walk out. I have walked out of meetings where foul language was used by a unit manager to describe her co-workers. That woman was one of the most vicious and incompetent managers I have ever known.She ended up destroying an entire psychiatric center. I simply will not condone Jeremiah Wright’s hate-filled oratory any more that I will condone the rantings of Pat Robertson or other purveyors of intolerance. As for Barack Obama’s association with Rev. Wright, I am assuming there was more depth to it than the sum and total of Wright’s preaching. But, there WILL be those who use Obama’s association with Rev. Wright for political gain. That is, unfortunately, the nature of politics today. Obama has offered us a vision of change. Rev. Wright offers a vision of anger and divisiveness. It is not a stretch to wonder why such a visionary as Obama could listen passively to such vitriole. It will frighten some people. It will anger others. It will confuse others. That is the reality of the matter. As time passes and the news cycle moves along, with the disasters and controversies of the coming days replacing the Wright controversy, it should be easier for Obama to recover from the negative vibes generated by Wright. There certainly are much more important and greater issues that must be discussed. I believe the economy will become even worse as summer approaches; and that will take the stage front and center. Obama appeals to those of us here because we are Progressives. We long for genuine change. But, he tends to be very intellectual. We are coming out of a cycle of intense conservatism. The majority of voters still revere Ronald Reagan, and think his words went directly from his lips to God’s ear. Obama must reach out to the masses; and their fears and concerns. The preachings of a man like Jeremiah Wright simply wont help and wont float in Middletown, USA.

  4. newworld Says:

    I believe that when we stop paying attention to the perceived negativity in the Obama corner, we can begin to realize this man is a shining ray of hope in a an otherwise gloomy sky.
    Is he perfect? Is his church perfect? Is anyone or anything perfect? When we forgive ourselves and each other for our imperfections, we can move forward and embrace love, not hate, and our country will begin to heal.

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