Monday, April 28, 2008

An answer to the question: Why did Barack Obama join Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church?

From Alex Koppelman's THE WAR ROOM blog on

For me, Wright's comments lead to something I've been thinking for a long time about Wright, Obama and their relationship -- why did Obama join Wright's church? And just how close were the two? Yes, one of Wright's sermons was the inspiration for the title of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," and yes, Obama attended Wright's church for 20 years. But I think Matt Yglesias was on to something when he wrote, back in March, "Obama's going to have a hard time explaining [w]hat I take to be the truth, namely that his relationship with Trinity has been a bit cynical from the beginning." In Salon, Edward McClelland described the germination of the relationship between Obama and Wright this way:

In "Audacity of Hope," Obama is talking about networking when he describes what brought him to Wright's church in 1987.

He was a community organizer then, and one of the black ministers with whom he was consulting suggested that the work would go more smoothly if he joined a congregation. "It might help your mission," said the pastor, "if you had a church home ... It doesn't matter where, really." The pastor was talking about Obama's community organizing mission, but he was also giving him good advice about politics.

When Obama picked a "church home," he chose one that helped him with another weak spot in his biography. Before Obama joined Trinity United, Rev. Wright warned Obama that the church was viewed as "too radical ... Our emphasis on African history, on scholarship ..." But Obama joined anyway. With that act, he had become significantly blacker -- and more like local voters. Part of the cultural divide between the half-Kenyan Hawaiian and his Chicago neighbors, most of them products of the Deep South's black diaspora, was bridged.

Look, for better or worse, the reality is that politicians and aspiring politicians sometimes appear to make choices about religion based at least in part on political expediency. (Take John McCain, who last year had trouble with consistency on the issue of which branch of Christianity he belongs to; sometimes he identified as a Baptist, which would presumably be a boon in a Republican presidential primary.) The problem is that even if Obama did in fact join Wright's church for political reasons, or just to help with his community organizing, and even if he wasn't much for active churchgoing -- Wright certainly seemed to imply that in some of his comments on Monday -- Obama can't say that, even to distance himself from the growing millstone around his neck that Wright now represents. Much of Obama's campaign is based on the premise that he's the anticynic, a politician who doesn't act or think like one. If Obama were to admit that sometimes even he makes cynical decisions, that could backfire and undercut his central message.

By this point, and even though he's no politician, Wright has to realize the trouble he's causing for Obama's campaign and the bind the Obama camp finds itself in. And yet he's hardly shunning the spotlight. That's prompted some to question his motives. (The Obama camp may even be pushing the questioning, it seems, and with good reason.) On his blog, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote:

The Obama campaign knows that Wright is throwing Obama under the bus, and they're of two minds about the political repercussions. On the one hand, they want him to shut up, knowing that the press is likely to repeat the Crazy Uncle soundbites more than they are the intelligent, learned theologian soundbites ... On the other hand, Wright's decision to publicly break up with Obama by essentializing him as a politician may well generate some distance between himself and Obama; perhaps the public may perceive the distance.

For the complete text of Koppelman's blog entry, log onto

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