As I've discussed previously, Senator Obama's church's magazine, The Trumpet, recently honored Louis Farrakhan at a banquet for his devotion to "truth." The magazine quoted Obama's "spiritual mentor," Rev. Wright, as praising Farrakhan for his "astounding and eyeopening" analysis of the "racial ills of this nation," a "perspective" that is "helpful and honest." Farrakhan, of course, is notorious for inflammatory and bigoted comments against whites in general, and Jews (not all of whom, I should note, are white) in particular. The Nation of Islam, which he leads, sells and promotes publications promoting various anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
When Wright's remarks and The Trumpet's award created a public controversy, Obama forthrightly condemned Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitism, but said nothing about Rev. Wright's fulsome praise for Farrakhan. He also suggested that the magazine's decision to honor Farrakhan likely related to his work with ex-offenders, a decision he nevertheless disagreed with. Many found his depiction of the magazine's motives disingenuous, given the public record as to the stated reasons for the award to the contrary.
Obama's defender's on the issue, including some VC commenters, eagerly reported that the ADL issued a press release that seemed to hold Obama harmless, indeed, praised Obama's
condemnation of the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan, and his making clear that he did not agree with his church's decision. ... Issues of racism and anti-Semitism must be beyond the bounds of politics. When someone close to a political figure shows sympathy and support for an individual who makes his name espousing bigotry, that political figure needs to distance himself from that decision. Senator Obama has done just that.
There is, however, a further development, which I suspect will lead some Obama defenders to regret relying on the ADL as authoritative on this issue:
In an interview with The Jewish Week, [ADL leader] Foxman said this must be just a first step. "He's distanced himself from his pastor's decision to honor Farrakhan. He has not distanced himself from his pastor. I think that's the next step. One can now expect from Sen. Obama that he confront his minister." Ultimately, said Foxman, if Obama is unable to influence Wright to alter his stands, "I think he has an obligation to leave."
Foxman added with regard to Wright that "I would say he is a black racist." He later amended his remarks, stating that Wright "embraces, awards and celebrates a black racist. I think [calling him] racist is going a little bit too far." [Question a reporter might pursue: Does the ADL's turnabout on the issue mean that it took flak from its constituents for leaping so vigorously to Obama's defense, despite his failure to distance himself from Wright's remarks?]
I don't think that Obama necessarily has to leave his church, or even "confront" Wright. However, it would be more than welcome to discover that Obama has made clear his displeasure with the Farrakhan endorsements.
There are those who have argued that it's unfair to ask even this of Obama. While I have disagreed, the point that one shouldn't hold Obama responsible for answering for the statements of his minister has some rhetorical force, even if Obama himself has noted Wright's importance his own intellectual and spiritual development. But it's rather harder to maintain the position that Wright's comments don't reflect on Obama now that Obama has publicly criticized Wright for stating during a sermon that Bill Clinton did "the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky." Obama issued a statement: "As I've told Reverend Wright, personal attacks such as this have no place in this campaign or our politics, whether they're offered from a platform at a rally or the pulpit of a church." Obama added: "Like a member of my own family, there are things he says at times with which I deeply disagree," he said. "But as he prepares to retire, that doesn't detract from my affection for Reverend Wright or appreciation for the good works he has done."
Obama's defenders will undoubtedly point out that compared to the Farrakhan remarks, Wright's condemnation of Clinton was much more directly campaign-related, and could have raised suspicions that Obama was using Wright as a surrogate. Fair enough. But The Trumpet's decision to honor Farrakhan was not campaign-related, and Obama did see fit to comment on that, instead of taking the position that his relationship with his church is a purely private religious matter. His surrogates, meanwhile, eagerly spun the controversy, with some success, as about a "magazine edited by Rev. Wright's daughter," obfuscating that the reason for the controversy is that the magazine is sponsored by Obama's church, and, even more significant, that Rev. Wright himself praised Farrakhan.