Is Michelle Obama responsible for the Jeremiah Wright fiasco?

A wartime lexicon.
May 5 2008 11:24 AM

Are We Getting Two for One?

Is Michelle Obama responsible for the Jeremiah Wright fiasco?

Michelle Obama. Click to view expanded image.
Michelle Obama

So numbed have I become by the endless replay of the fatuous clerical rantings of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that it has taken me this long to remember the significant antecedent. In 1995, there appeared a documentary titled Brother Minister about the assassination of Malcolm X. It contained a secretly filmed segment showing Louis Farrakhan shouting at the top of his lungs in the Nation of Islam's temple in Chicago on "Savior's Day" in 1993. Farrakhan, verging on hysteria, demanded to know of the murdered Malcolm X: "If we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours?" His apparent admission of what had long been suspected—that it was the Black Muslim leadership that ordered Malcolm's slaying—is not understood or remembered (or viewed) as often as it might be.

Christopher Hitchens Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.

I invite you to look at the film of Farrakhan's sweating, yelling, paranoid face and to bear in mind that this depraved thug, who boasts of "dealing with" one of black America's moral heroes, is the man praised by Jeremiah Wright and referred to with respect as "Minister Farrakhan" by the senator who hopes to be the next president of the United States.

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Liberal comment on Wright, and on the incredible damage that this conceited old fanatic has done to the Obama campaign, tends to dwell on the negative effect that black chauvinist rhetoric has on white working-class voters. Fair enough, I suppose. But why should a thinking black member of the working class want any truck with a Farrakhan fan or with a moral idiot who thinks that the drugs and disease in the black community are imposed by an outside conspiracy? I don't need any condescending liberal to explain to me why black Americans are inclined to be touchy about the way their forebears were treated any more than I require a patronizing former Harvard law student to guide me through the anxieties of the gun-owning and hunting community. I can quite easily understand these points without pedagogic assistance. What I won't be told is that Tawana Brawley was right, or that AIDS is the fault of the government, or that Jews were behind the slave trade, or that there is a secret Masonic code in the dollar bill. And the apologist for murder "Minister Farrakhan" and his big-mouth Christian friends flirt with this kind of half-baked garbage every day.

Nettled at last by the way in which this has upset his campaign, Sen. Obama last week cut the ties that bound him to his crackpot mentor. Well, high time. But those who profess relief at this should perhaps revisit what they thought (and wrote) about the earlier Philadelphia speech in which Obama was held to have achieved the same result with less trouble. If he was right last week, then the Philly speech was a failure on every level, and if it was a failure on every level, and thus left Obama hideously vulnerable to the very next speech made by his foaming pastor, then that must raise questions of eligibility for the highest office.

What can it be that has kept Obama in Wright's pews, and at Wright's mercy, for so long and at such a heavy cost to his aspirations? Even if he pulls off a mathematical nomination victory, he has completely lost the first, fine, careless rapture of a post-racial and post-resentment political movement and mired us again in all the old rubbish that predates Dr. King. What a sad thing to behold. And how come? I think we can exclude any covert sympathy on Obama's part for Wright's views or style—he has proved time and again that he is not like that, and even his own little nods to "Minister" Farrakhan can probably be excused as a silly form of Chicago South Side political etiquette. All right, then, how is it that the loathsome Wright married him, baptized his children, and received donations from him? Could it possibly have anything, I wonder, to do with Mrs. Obama?

This obvious question is now becoming inescapable, and there is an inexcusable unwillingness among reporters to be the one to ask it. (One can picture Obama looking pained and sensitive and saying, "Keep my wife out of it," or words to that effect, as Clinton tried to do in 1992 when Jerry Brown and Ralph Nader quite correctly inquired about his spouse's influence.) If there is a reason why the potential nominee has been keeping what he himself now admits to be very bad company—and if the rest of his character seems to make this improbable—then either he is hiding something and/or it is legitimate to ask him about his partner.

I direct your attention to Mrs. Obama's 1985 thesis at Princeton University. Its title (rather limited in scope, given the author and the campus) is "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." To describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be "read" at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn't written in any known language. Anyway, at quite an early stage in the text, Michelle Obama announces that she's much influenced by the definition of black "separationism" offered by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton in their 1967 screed Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. I remember poor Stokely Carmichael quite well. After a hideous series of political and personal fiascos, he fled to Africa, renamed himself Kwame Toure after two of West Africa's most repellently failed dictators, and then came briefly back to the United States before electing to die in exile. I last saw him as the warm-up speaker for Louis Farrakhan in Madison Square Garden in 1985, on the evening when Farrakhan made himself famous by warning Jews, "You can't say 'Never Again' to God, because when he puts you in the ovens, you're there forever."I have the distinct feeling that the Obama campaign can't go on much longer without an answer to the question: "Are we getting two for one?" And don't be giving me any grief about asking this. Black Americans used to think that the Clinton twosome was their best friend, too. This time we should find out before it's too late to ask.

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