The statements of clergymen like Jeremiah Wright aren't controversial and incendiary; they're wicked and stupid.
It's been more than a month since I began warning Sen. Barack Obama that he would become answerable for his revolting choice of a family priest. But never mind that; the astonishing thing is that it's at least 11 months since he himself has known precisely the same thing. "If Barack gets past the primary," said the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the New York Times in April of last year, "he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen." Pause just for a moment, if only to admire the sheer calculating self-confidence of this. Sen. Obama has long known perfectly well, in other words, that he'd one day have to put some daylight between himself and a bigmouth Farrakhan fan. But he felt he needed his South Side Chicago "base" in the meantime. So he coldly decided to double-cross that bridge when he came to it. And now we are all supposed to marvel at the silky success of the maneuver.
You often hear it said, of some political or other opportunist, that he would sell his own grandmother if it would suit his interests. But you seldom, if ever, see this notorious transaction actually being performed, which is why I am slightly surprised that Obama got away with it so easily. (Yet why do I say I am surprised? He still gets away with absolutely everything.)
Looking for a moral equivalent to a professional demagogue who thinks that AIDS and drugs are the result of a conspiracy by the white man, Obama settled on an 85-year-old lady named Madelyn Dunham, who spent a good deal of her youth helping to raise him and who now lives alone and unwell in a condo in Honolulu. It would be interesting to know whether her charismatic grandson made her aware that he was about to touch her with his grace and make her famous in this way. By sheer good fortune, she, too, could be a part of it all and serve her turn in the great enhancement.
This flabbergasting process, made up of glibness and ruthlessness in equal proportions, rolls on unstoppably with a phalanx of reporters and men of the cloth as its accomplices. Look at the accepted choice of words for the ravings of Jeremiah Wright: controversial, incendiary, inflammatory. These are adjectives that might have been—and were—applied to many eloquent speakers of the early civil rights movement. (In the Washington Post, for Good Friday last, the liberal Catholic apologist E.J. Dionne lamely attempted to stretch this very comparison.) But is it "inflammatory" to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it "controversial." It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.
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.