The Reverend Wright “issue” is still with us, amazingly. But one thing I’m still waiting to hear from anyone is exactly what it is supposed to tell us about Barack Obama that is so troubling. Does anyone believe that Obama holds the views for which Wright was criticized? Does someone expect Obama to cry out “God damn America”? Does anyone think Obama believes that the government created AIDS to destroy the black community? Does anyone think Obama is going to appoint Wright to be Secretary of Health and Human Services? Are there any real questions -- by which I don’t mean “questions Sean Hannity might ask” -- that Obama’s association with Wright actually raises, questions that bear on what an Obama presidency might look like?
Obviously, the answer to all these questions is “no.” So what, then, is the controversy actually about? Some have said, well, he sat in that church for 20 years, and didn’t walk out. OK -- so what does that portend for an Obama presidency? Anything at all?
Let’s take a contrast. John McCain has caroused with a number of repellent fundamentalist pastors, including John Hagee and Rod Parsley. Does anyone think that, like Hagee, McCain believes we must invade Iran in order to hasten the coming of Armageddon? No -- McCain may well want to invade Iran, but Armageddon doesn’t have much to do with it. Does McCain believe, like Parsley (whom he called a “spiritual guide”), that God created America as part of His plan to destroy Islam? I doubt it. Nonetheless, McCain’s efforts to secure the support of these two and others like them does actually tell us something about McCain. What it tells us is that, like most politicians, McCain will pander shamelessly when the political moment suggests that doing so would be advantageous. It also tells us that McCain is particularly concerned about winning and keeping the loyalty of the religious right.
This, in turn, raises some legitimate questions about a McCain presidency. What role will people like Hagee and Parsley play in a McCain administration? Will the “faith-based initiative” program continue to be a Republican party organizing slush fund, as it has been during the Bush administration? Will anti-abortion zealots continue to control American policy on population issues? Could McCain envision appointing judges who believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, which would anger these forces, or will all his judges be pro-life? These are all questions I’d like to hear McCain asked.
Of course, he won’t be asked. When McCain panders, journalists can’t even wrap their heads around the idea that doing so might make him…a panderer. We’ve even seen them turn themselves in circles to claim that McCain’s turnaround on immigration – both a flip-flop and a pander all in one – never happened, but that instead McCain held his ground in the face of political danger. Because that’s just what he does. Except when he doesn’t, which doesn’t count.
Maybe I'm just naive, thinking that when the news media go crazy over something a candidate said, or something somebody linked to a candidate said, they have an obligation to tell us why it actually matters, and if they can't come up with a reason, maybe they shouldn't be covering it. Yeah, that's just silly.
-- Paul Waldman