Friday, October 17, 2008

A Question of Character

from tmorange
date Fri, Oct 17, 2008 at 10:08 AM
subject "A Question of Character" (Wehner, 10/14)

Mr. Wehner,

Of course, character matters. But the fundamental premises underlying your case for challenging Obama's character are, to say the very least, questionable.

Consider this: how many "associations" do you think the average law student, community organizer and state senator makes over the course of his or her career? I think it's safe to estimate the number to be several hundred at least. Now if I understand your case correctly, you want us to believe that three or four association in particular -- ACORN, Ayers, Rezko and Wright -- deserve more scrutiny, or are somehow more indicative of Obama's character, than any of the hundreds of his other associations.

Many reasonable observers would, rightly I think, be unwilling to grant you even this basic premise, but I will purely for the sake of argument. You talk about, and I quote, "Barack Obama's past associations with radical figures," "Obama's radical associations" (twice), "Obama's associations with Ayers and Wright and all the rest," that he "hung around with some pretty disturbing characters," and "what we're talking about aren't isolated incidents. It has happened with a slew of people." Notice already what is happening in some of your specific language here: "and all the rest" and "a slew of people" both suggest far more than the four most infamous of Obama's associations I listed above, and yet I've never heard more than these four mentioned by name of the literally hundreds of professional associations he undoubtedly has. Have you?

Now let's move from considering the quantity of associations (these four among hundreds) to the quality, which you characterize as "radical figures," "radical associations" repeatedly, "pretty disturbing characters," and in a final flourish, "people who have a disturbing history of violence, hatred for America, and corruption." Are these fair or accurate characterizations of ACORN, Ayers, Rezko and Wright?

ACORN is a community organization that works to achieve living wages, better housing and schools, and neighborhood safety for low-income families, It also pays underemployed individuals to collect voter registrations, and a small number of those people clearly try to game the system. Indeed the Republican lawyer who prosecuted the first ACORN case (King County, Washington, 2007) said, "a joint federal and state investigation has determined that this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting. Instead, the defendants cheated their employer, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or ACORN), to get paid for work they did not actually perform." Obama has in the past done some work for them and given them some of his campaign money.

Bill Ayers is now the ultimate toothless radical, an education professor at an Illinois university who committed acts of terrorism some forty years ago, when Barack Obama was eight years old. He claims his more recent remarks on "no regrets" and "not doing enough" have been subject to "deliberate distortion" in being applied beyond the Vietnam War and has publicly condemned the attacks of September 11. Obama has served on some boards with him and did not, contrary to GOP assertions, begin his campaign in Ayers' living room.

Tony Rezko is a businessmen with some undoubtedly crooked dealings. Obama has received some campaign contributions from him and did a small real estate deal with him that may have created an appearance of but no actual impropriety.

Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Obama's UCC mega-church in Chicago, served in this country's Navy and Marine Corps and earned four academic degrees. His 36-year ministry was rooted in a theology of empowerment and self-determination. His decontextualized sermon sound bites, such as "God Damn America," look and sound entirely understandable given a video backdrop of, say, tens of thousands of poor, largely African American citizens of New Orleans abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. More recent Wright statements Obama has found offensive and denounced.

So I ask again: are these truly "radical associations" with "pretty disturbing characters," with "people who have a disturbing history of violence, hatred for America, and corruption" as you claim? I think the reasonable observer would concede that these four associations, of the hundreds Obama likely has, simply cannot be painted equally with so broad a brush. No, the associations themselves vary from significant to distant and incidental; the individuals themselves vary from crooked and somewhat controversial to essentially innocuous.

"This issue shouldn't, by itself, be dispositive," you concede, "Nor should it be the only, or even the most important, issue in the campaign. Nor is it fair to say that Obama's character can be understood only through the prism of his associations." Unfortunately, on October 4 the Washington Post quoted McCain campaign adviser Greg Stimple as saying, "We are looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis and getting back to discussing Mr. Obama's aggressively liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans." A day later, the New York Daily News quoted "a top McCain strategist" admitting, "If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we're going to lose." This was the same weekend that McCain's running mate was out on the stump accusing Obama of, quote, "palling around with terrorists." Only days later, when McCain asked his audience who is the real Obama, the reply came back loud and clear, "terrorist." Visibly startled, McCain said nothing.

"The concern is not that Obama will invite domestic terrorists to the White House for signing ceremonies or private lunches," you claim. But clearly GOP operatives are stoking these very fears. I won't list all the incidents here -- the Virginia GOP chair encouraging volunteers to link Obama with terrorists, the GOP websites in Pennsylvania and Sacramento calling Obama "A Terrorist's Best Friend" and urging people to "Waterboard Barack Obama," the Robocalls going out right now that declare, "I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers."

Yes, Mr. Wehner, this is a question of character. Even close conservative friends and allies of John McCain no longer recognize this man. And whatever character he had going into this election, he has little if any left now.

P.S. Your white suprematist analogies do not apply for at least two reasons: 1) Jeremiah Wright is not a black suprematist, and black liberation theology is not about black supremacy but black equality, and 2) because black equality attempts to redress centuries of socioeconomic injustice while white supremacy attempts to maintain and reinforce that injustice, there is no moral equivalent between the two.

No comments: