What’s up with your boy?

For the first time this election season, your boy Barack Obama is facing a certified political crisis. Ever since the national media obtained excerpts of a controversial sermon by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Obama has been forced to defend his own positions on race, religion, and patriotism. From where I sit, he’s not doing a very good job.

In series of interviews, Obama feigned ignorance and shock regarding Wright’s statements. During his interviews with CNN and Fox News, Obama swore on a stack of bibles that he had never heard such “incendiary” and “unacceptable” language from his “former” pastor. When backed against a wall, he promised his interviewers that he would have done everything from walking out of service to quitting the church had he heard such rhetoric from the pew.

From a purely strategic standpoint, Obama’s absolutist stance was a bad move. After all, no one really believes that Obama has not heard Jeremiah Wright make similar statements during their twenty-year relationship. Anyone who knows Pastor Wright, who is one of the most well known preachers in the nation, will tell you that he is deeply committed to the theory and practice of African-centered liberation theology. As such, Wright’s sociopolitical commentary–which the media has mendaciously edited and twisted into a mélange of cultish rantings—are the rule rather than the exception in both his personal and public conversations. Instead of allaying public anxieties by owning up to this fact, Obama’s dishonest response has merely prompted the media to look for the inevitable video clip of him sitting in church while Wright is giving a provocative sermon. At that point, he will not only be seen as anti-white, but also a liar.

More significantly, however, Obama’s failure to defend Jeremiah Wright reflects a deeper character flaw. By all credible accounts, Obama’s decision to join Trinity United Church of Christ in the first place was prompted by a desire to earn points with blacks in Chicago. By standing close to Wright, Obama was able to convince local people that he was “black enough” to represent their political interests. Now that Wright is a political liability rather than a source of street cred, Obama has decided to throw his mentor under the bus to protect his own image. This only reinforces the growing notion that Obama is a political opportunist who is driven more by interests than feelings.

In dazzlingly Clintonian fashion (remember Sister Souljah?), Obama attacked Wright’s words to score points with whites. Rather than using the controversy (as you did) to spotlight the historical role that prophetic preachers have played in black life, Obama simply dismissed Wright as a “crazy uncle” who is unreasonably bitter and anger about obsolete racial issues. Instead of defending the black church as a desperately needed site for counter-public discourse and resistance, Barack merely asked the American (read: white) voters to focus on Trinity’s “universal” values like love, family, and community. In doing so, Barack showed where his real loyalties lie: with Barack Obama.

Down From The Tower : Obama's Response To Jeremiah Wright