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January 21, 2008
Farrakhan, Smearing Barack Obama
The only things Barack Obama and Louis Farrakhan have in common are that
they’re both black, they’re both famous and they’re both based in
Chicago. Oh, and one of them knows someone who knows someone who sort of
knows the other.
The connection between the men, however superfluous, became an election
issue last week when Richard Cohen, a generally liberal op-ed columnist
for the Washington Post, penned a truly noxious column in which
he wondered whether Obama could pass the “Farrakhan Test.”
Why’s that? Because the candidate’s church in Chicago publishes a
newsletter, and the daughters of the church’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A.
Wright Jr., are its editors. Last year, that newsletter gave an award to
Farrakhan, the leader for the past few decades of the Nation of Islam,
and a man known for not-so-savory comments about white people broadly
and Jews specifically. Cohen’s complaint is that Obama has not done
enough to forcefully condemn an award given by the daughter of his
pastor in a newsletter likely read by a few hundred people a year ago.
Never mind that, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the two men have
never met and have no relationship to one another. Considering that, and
that Farrakhan is said to be in poor health, it’s unlikely he would have
much of a voice in an Obama Administration. The connection is at least
three degrees and a year away, a year Obama has spent running for
president and dealing with issues more important than, say, what someone
wrote in a church newsletter.
The implication, however, is obvious: Despite all appearances and
despite everything either man has ever said or written, Barack Obama
is Louis Farrakhan. They’re all alike, in other words. A more
unfair, nonsensical, and (let’s face it) racist political argument is
quite hard to imagine. It’s a combination of a couple of the worst
impulses in recent American politics, including guilt by extremely
tenuous association and – a particular pet peeve of mine – the “will you
condemn this” game.
Under the rules of the game, liberals (it tends to only be used on them)
are required to condemn, immediately and loudly, any outrageous
statement by any other liberal, at all times, and failure to do so
immediately “raises troubling questions” about the liberal and his/her
fitness for office. Whether the person making the “outrageous statement”
is a figure of consequence, or someone the liberal in question even
knows, is totally immaterial. The goal seems to be to get liberals
condemning each other as much as possible.
I’m used to seeing this garbage from people like Sean Hannity. But
Cohen, a left-of-center columnist who’s usually reasonable and really
should know better? It’s just plain ugly. (For what it’s worth, Obama’s
campaign issued a statement the day Cohen’s column appeared stating that
the candidate wishes to “strongly condemn the
anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.")
After Obama’s opponents were done trashing him with the Muslim/madrassah
smear – though as recent emails have shown, they’re not done with it at
all – they began hammering away at his church and specifically some of
the controversial things said from the pulpit by Wright. It’s ridiculous
enough to simultaneously trash the same man as both a stealth Muslim and
a radical Christian black separatist, especially when all of his sayings
and writings indicate he is the furthest thing from either.
And besides, I’ve been to services and studied with quite a few rabbis
over the years, and I’m sure if you combed through their years of
writings and sermons, a few of them have probably made some
controversial statements. But should I be made to answer for them? What
about someone who one of their daughters once gave an award to?
a fascinating piece last week about Obama that ran in Seattle’s The
Stranger newspaper, titled “The Church of Obama,” Jonathan Raban
wrote that Obama has been influenced by both the very left-wing church
that he attended and the very right-wing University of Chicago law
school, where he taught for years, two institutions only a few miles
from each other. To anyone interested in truth, nuance and shades of
gray, it’s clear that Obama has been shaped by many different strands
and currents of thought. There’s a lot more evidence in Obama’s record
of that than of, say, anti-Semitism or religious extremism.
footnote: Nearly a year ago, in March, when the Obama’s-church
controversy was first introduced, I wrote in this space that “Just
as Republicans ran against John Kerry in 2004 by pretending he was
Michael Moore, the strategy of the Hannity right for ’08 is apparently
to pretend Obama is Louis Farrakhan.” I was only wrong about one part –
that the one doing the attacking, along with numerous bloggers, is a
liberal columnist on a liberal editorial page.
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