Friday, June 1, 2012

Obama and Jeremiah Wright: Why a Pulled Ad Does Not Mean a Dead Issue

by Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum

In May, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright appeared resurrected from the ashes of the 2008 campaign. There was an uproar after The New York Times broke the story that a super PAC had proposed commercials associating President Obama with controversial comments made by his former pastor. Mitt Romney asked for the ads not to run, Karl Rove pronounced the plan stupid, and the advertising campaign's funder, Joe Ricketts, publicly rejected the plan. The proposed ads were pulled (for now) from the air. And yet, the themes of the ads will not disappear; they have remained a staple of conservative talk radio and television nearly every day since the previous election, and millions of voters remain convinced that the president is really not an "American." Moreover, the term "black liberation theology" gets put in "scare quotes" in articles (as in the aforementioned Times piece). Jeremiah Wright himself may not become the bogeyman star of this election, but the issues raised by his legacy will remain very much with us.

During the 2008 campaign, religion and race made Barack Obama a candidate unlike any previous one. His name was more Islamic than Christian; his phenotype was darker than prior presidents; and his pastor in Chicago sparked a firestorm with the words "God damn America," which almost cost Obama the nomination. The media bombshell exploded in March at the height of the primary elections. Obama's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, became a household name, as snippets from his sermons went viral, and talk-show hosts ranging all over the political spectrum tried to interpret throughout the twenty-four-hour news cycle what Wright had said. Endlessly replayed, Wright could be heard from his pulpit shouting: "God damn America" for treating Native Americans and black Americans so badly; "God damn America" for its unrighteous "war on terror" and its torturing ways; and "God damn America" for supporting Israel and its mistreatment of Palestinians. Wright justified his political positions by turning to the Bible and invoking ideas from liberation theology: "Jesus was a poor black man," Wright intoned, "who lived in a culture that was controlled by rich white people."
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