Although the Barack Obama campaign has enough time on its hands to barrage reporters who don't spin their analyses of exit poll data in the Obama-approved manner—as Politico.com discovered when it posted a dull story pointing out that Obama has been lagging among Catholic voters and was promptly besieged by angry Obama staffers—it still can't seem to find the time to answer important questions about the candidate.
For example, Obama disingenuously introduced himself to the country in his keynote address to the Democratic Convention in 2004 by starting out with 380 feel-good words about his racial background, focusing on his parents' "improbable love".
His goal was to get you to assume that he "transcends race" because he grew up happily bathed in the love of parents of two races.
Not surprisingly, Obama never quite got around to mentioning to the conventioneers that his father committed the crime of bigamy by marrying the Senator's pregnant mother—Barack Sr. already had another wife back home in Kenya, whom he returned to (accompanied by yet another American wife) and with whom he had at least one more child.
Nor did Obama bring up how much complicated, self-inflicted psychological damage was engendered in him by his shattered family. His father abandoned him when he was two, and his mother periodically dumped him on his grandparents in Hawaii so she could research her 1,067-page anthropology dissertation with the Onionesque title Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving and Thriving against All Odds.
Similarly, the Obama campaign has tried very hard not to mention just how far to the left ideologically Obama has been for most (all?) of his life. To get some understanding of what's in Obama's heart, it helps to pay careful attention to the beliefs of Obama's minister for the last 20 years, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
Obama recently vaguely implied to a Jewish group in Cleveland, who were concerned about Wright giving his lifetime achievement award last November to Black Muslim boss Louis Farrakhan, that his spiritual advisor is a semi-senile old coot. (Wright is all of 66.) [In Cleveland, Obama Speaks on Jewish Issues, NY Sun, February 25, 2008]
But this was hardly Wright's first involvement with the Nation of Islam leader. He had accompanied Farrakhan to visit arch-terrorist Col. Kaddafi in Libya in 1984, four years before Obama joined chose his church. The candidate's 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, makes clear that Obama's concern about Wright was whether he was radical enough—a test that Wright passed with flying colors in his sermon The Audacity of Hope.
A year ago, March 1, 2007, Rev. Dr. Wright made an angry appearance on the Hannity & Colmes show on FoxNews. It represents one of the few times when someone very close to the old Obama has been directly challenged. The telecast attracted little attention—the discussion quickly devolved into almost incomprehensible crosstalk—but a careful reading of the transcript reveals much about the ideological underpinnings that helped bond Obama to Wright's church for the last 20 years.
Sean Hannity began by asking Wright about the "Black Value System" espoused by Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ. Wright responded:
WRIGHT: The black value system, which was developed by the congregation, by laypersons of the congregation, 26 years ago, very similar to the gospel (INAUDIBLE) developed by laypersons in Nicaragua during the whole liberation theology movement, 26, 28, 30 years ago, yes.
What exactly was going on in Nicaragua 26 to 30 years before this debate in 2007? Well, 1977-1981 were the years of the Marxist revolution in Nicaragua. The Soviet-allied Sandinistas made use of the "liberation theology" promoted by leftist Catholic clerics of the Jesuit and the Maryknoll orders. In fact, three radical liberation theology priests served in the Sandinista cabinet. During a dramatic 1983 visit to Managua, Pope John Paul II had to speak out sharply against liberation theology. He later suspended Marxist priests serving in the Sandinista regime.
So, the black liberation theology of Obama's church is, according to Obama's minister, "very similar" to the "liberation theology" espoused by old Marxist revolutionaries in Nicaragua.
Obama's pastor responded combatively to Hannity:
WRIGHT: If you're not going to talk about theology in context, if you're not going to talk about liberation theology that came out of the '60s, (INAUDIBLE) black liberation theology, that started with Jim Cone in 1968, and the writings of Cone, and the writings of Dwight Hopkins, and the writings of womanist theologians, and Asian theologians, and Hispanic theologians...
"Womanist is to feminist as lavender is to purple".
I don't know what that means, but it's evidently very important to some people because there's a lot more about it on Google, more than I care to know. (Evidently, lavender is the traditional lesbian color—for example, Betty Friedan, president of the National Organization for Women, coined the term "the lavender menace" in 1969 to describe lesbian attempts to dominate NOW—while purple is sometimes associated more generally with homosexuality. But you'll have to go read somebody who cares to figure out precisely what Walker is talking about.)
The Wright-Hannity brouhaha then got a tad testy. I'll just excerpt some of Obama's mentor's contributions to this wingding.
WRIGHT: Do you know liberation theology, sir? Do you know liberation theology?
WRIGHT: Do you know black liberation theology? …
WRIGHT: I said, do you know black theology? …
WRIGHT: How many of Cone's books have you read? How many of Cone's books have you read?
WRIGHT: How many books of Cone's have you read? …
WRIGHT: That comes out of the perspective of liberation theology and black liberation theology. And I keep asking him, how many books of Cone's has he read? How many books of Dwight Hopkins? How many liberation theologians does he know?
Evidently, James Hal Cone is an important influence on Sen. Obama's counselor.
So who is this Dr. Cone that Wright so obsessively invokes?
He is, as Wright said, the founder of black liberation theology. I'm not here to debate theology, but I do want to point out that black liberation theology is just as firmly embedded in a far left intellectual milieu as its more famous Nicaraguan cousin that so provoked John Paul II. Here's an interesting paragraph from a biography of Cone on the website of a workshop at the University of Chicago Divinity School that is co-sponsored by Cone's acolyte Dwight Hopkins:
"Dr. James Cone continues to envision the actuality of equality among people, challenging white and black churches alike to recognize U.S. capitalism's oppressive character throughout the world. In a timely question first written in 1977, but as effectively appropriate today, Cone asked, 'What does black theology have to say about the fact that two-thirds of humanity is poor and that this poverty arises from the exploitation of poor nations by rich nations?' Influenced by a broad range of social critics and womanist theologians, Dr. Cone has expanded his race critique by asking pressing questions regarding the relationship of racism with not only classicism, [sic]but with sexism and ecological destruction as well."
It's sometimes argued in Obama's defense that, while this kind of thing sounds crazy-left to white people, it's actually merely on the left half of the mainstream among blacks. For example, the New York Times reported last year:
"Mr. Wright's church, the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ, is considered mainstream—Oprah Winfrey has attended services, and many members are prominent black professionals. But the church is also more Afrocentric and politically active than standard black congregations."[Disinvitation by Obama Is Criticized, By Jodi Kantor, March 6, 2007]
On the other hand, widespread ideological extremism of this sort among blacks is one reason why so few blacks have been elected to statewide office in recent years.
But it's hardly an insoluble burden.
For example, Hollywood movie stars tend to be about as ideologically far to the left as postgraduate-educated blacks such as Cone, Wright, and Obama. And that's a big reason why actors have had so little success in electoral politics despite their vast name recognition and charismatic personalities.
Yet California voters have elected three movie stars to statewide office—Sen. George Murphy in 1964, Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1966 and 1970, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 and 2006. The common denominator is that all three were Republicans. Voters seem to feel that swimming against the Hollywood tide displays some strength of character.
In sharp contrast, Obama, despite his nearly unique background, has devoted much of his life to diving headfirst into the black mainstream to fill the gnawing need that his family background created in him to prove he was "black enough".
Has Obama matured ideologically since his 1995 autobiography? We must hope so. Unfortunately, in the Preface to the 2004 edition of Dreams from My Father, Obama denies, in his characteristically graceful yet impenetrable prose style, that he has changed:
"I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine—that I would tell the story much differently today than I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research."
Perhaps he's just saying that to keep Mrs. Obama at bay.
Or perhaps he really means it.
I don't think that's too much to ask of a man who wants to be President.