The statements of clergymen like Jeremiah Wright aren't controversial and incendiary; they're wicked and stupid.
That same supposed message of his is also contradicted in a different way by trying to put Geraldine Ferraro on all fours with a thug like Obama's family "pastor." Ferraro may have sounded sour when she asserted that there can be political advantages to being black in the United States—and she said the selfsame thing about Jesse Jackson in 1984—but it's perfectly arguable that what she said is, in fact, true, and even if it isn't true, it's absurd to try and classify it as a racist remark. No doubt Obama's slick people were looking for a revenge for Samantha Power (who, incidentally, ought never to have been let go for the useful and indeed audacious truths that she uttered in Britain), but their news-cycle solution was to cover their own queasy cowardice in that case by feigning outrage in the Ferraro matter. The consequence, which you can already feel, is an inchoate resentment among many white voters who are damned if they will be called bigots by a man who associates with Jeremiah Wright. So here we go with all that again. And this is the fresh, clean, new post-racial politics?
Now, by way of which vent or orifice is this venom creeping back into our national bloodstream? Where is hatred and tribalism and ignorance most commonly incubated, and from which platform is it most commonly yelled? If you answered "the churches" and "the pulpits," you got both answers right. The Ku Klux Klan (originally a Protestant identity movement, as many people prefer to forget) and the Nation of Islam (a black sectarian mutation of Quranic teaching) may be weak these days, but bigotry of all sorts is freely available, and openly inculcated into children, by any otherwise unemployable dirtbag who can perform the easy feat of putting Reverend in front of his name. And this clerical vileness has now reached the point of disfiguring the campaigns of both leading candidates for our presidency. If you think Jeremiah Wright is gruesome, wait until you get a load of the next Chicago "Reverend," one James Meeks, another South Side horror show with a special sideline in the baiting of homosexuals. He, too, has been an Obama supporter, and his church has been an occasional recipient of Obama's patronage. And perhaps he, too, can hope to be called "controversial" for his use of the term house nigger to describe those he doesn't like and for his view that it was "the Hollywood Jews" who brought us Brokeback Mountain. Meanwhile, the Republican nominee adorns himself with two further reverends: one named John Hagee, who thinks that the pope is the Antichrist, and another named Rod Parsley, who has declared that the United States has a mission to obliterate Islam. Is it conceivable that such repellent dolts would be allowed into public life if they were not in tax-free clerical garb? How true it is that religion poisons everything.
And what a shame. I assume you all have your copies of The Audacity of Hope in paperback breviary form. If you turn to the chapter entitled "Faith," beginning on Page 195, and read as far as Page 208, I think that even if you don't concur with my reading, you may suspect that I am onto something. In these pages, Sen. Obama is telling us that he doesn't really have any profound religious belief, but that in his early Chicago days he felt he needed to acquire some spiritual "street cred." The most excruciatingly embarrassing endorsement of this same viewpoint came last week from Abigail Thernstrom at National Review Online. Overcome by "the speech" that the divine one had given in Philadelphia, she urged us to be understanding. "Obama's description of the parishioners in his church gave white listeners a glimpse of a world of faith (with 'raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor … dancing, clapping, screaming, and shouting') that has been the primary means of black survival and uplift." A glimpse, huh? What the hell next? A tribute to the African-American sense of rhythm?
To have accepted Obama's smooth apologetics is to have lowered one's own pre-existing standards for what might constitute a post-racial or a post-racist future. It is to have put that quite sober and realistic hope, meanwhile, into untrustworthy and unscrupulous hands. And it is to have done this, furthermore, in the service of blind faith. Mark my words: This disappointment is only the first of many that are still to come.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Barack Obama by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.