As you probably know, Senator Barack Obama has recently distanced himself -- somewhat, at least -- from remarks made in twenty years of sermons by his long-time (and now former) pastor, Jeremiah Wright, after Wright's "controversial", "divisive" and "incendiary" statements caused political problems for the Democratic presidential hopeful.
Obama side-stepped the issues very eloquently, in a way only a half-black, half-white candidate could attempt; the speech he gave on Tuesday has been hailed as an important effort at bridging the divide that separates us: one small step for the man himself, and a giant leap -- if not for mankind, then at least for the Obama vision, a vision of one people united.
It's a lofty and noble goal, in general terms. And it has never been expressed in anything but general terms during this campaign, nor can it ever be. The basic reason -- the unmentionable basic reason -- is that Obama's vision is spectacularly unsuited for the task at hand.
It's a lovely vision. It's perfect, perhaps, for some other time or some other place. But for early 21st century America, it's deadly.
Peggy Noonan echoed one of my reactions in the Wall Street Journal when she wrote:
It seemed to me as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics.If this quality -- pushing honesty to the politically acceptable limit -- was its greatness, then it was also its downfall. Consider the following passage from Obama, Tuesday in Philadelphia:
We’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.Wright's statements, which Obama says "denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation" and which therefore were breathlessly reported by the national press, included charges that America nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that America supported state-sponsored terrorism against South Africans and Palestinians, and that America's foreign policy was somehow responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.
They may offend "black and white alike", but not "rightly"; not by any stretch of the imagination. They certainly offend the ignorant and arrogant alike, but to anyone with a heart and a clue, they come as welcome reminders that somebody still notices and cares about the truth behind all the lies.
Here's Obama again:
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.Speaking of problems, the problem with Barack Obama's vision of unity is its comprehensiveness. In other words, he sacrifices verifiable truth in order to preserve a shadowy vision of unity. Or maybe he just ran up against the limits Peggy Noonan hinted at. One way or another, Barack Obama's analysis is in some respects entirely detached from reality.
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Reverend Wright's "controversial remarks" contained a great deal of truth -- and as always, truth is the seed of change for the better. By explicitly rejecting the truths Wright has told, Obama has closed off any avenue of potential improvement.
I don't mean to imply that I agree with everything Jeremiah Wright has ever said; I am only aware of a few of his most "incendiary statements". But some of those statements were "incendiary" precisely because they were true! And Barack Obama's description of 21st century America is very different from reality in some important respects.
The question of whether white racism in America is "endemic" is a tricky one, and much depends on what one means by "endemic". In one sense, "endemic" means "confined to a certain region". Clearly white racism is not confined to the United States or any part thereof. So technically Obama's assertion may be true. However, "endemic" also means "natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place" and it is quite a stretch to assert that white racism is not natural to or characteristic of America -- it's an important part of our heritage, as Obama's speech itself showed!
In fact, Obama's speech is seen as remarkable because it concerned race relations and racial tension -- subjects which are seldom if ever mentioned in the national discourse. Does this very fact not also argue that Obama is wrong about the prevalence of racism? However you slice it, facts are facts, and here are a few more of them:
Some white people are less prejudiced than their ancestors were. Others are not. Some black people in modern America have advantages unavailable to their parents and grandparents. Others have no such luck. The racial divide, as Obama pointed out so eloquently, goes way back, back to the founding of the country -- a country founded by rich white men who owned black slaves.
Among other "incendiary remarks", Jeremiah Wright has said that modern America is ruled by rich white men. But what is news about this? They no longer own slaves, but they still run the country. When was it ever otherwise?
We can see. We can count. We know certain things; certain undeniable, easily provable things: There are very few African-Americans in the corridors of power. Those who dare to speak freely and truthfully are quickly removed -- or marginalized, while those who toe the line get to stay a bit longer and make a bit more noise. Thus we have Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney on the one hand; Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and John Conyers on the other.
Blacks are more likely than whites to be charged with a crime. They are more likely to be convicted once charged. They are more likely to be given harsh sentences once convicted. We've reached a ridiculous extreme: one out of every nine young adult black men is in prison. How could this happen in a society where white racism wasn't endemic?
There are plenty of other aspects of American racism, and plenty of other things wrong with America, too. They are all well worth discussing, and in fact the discussion is necessary and long overdue, even if it risks the condemnation of those who see any criticism as "elevat[ing] what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America".
Even more to the point, the conflicts in the Middle East are firmly rooted in the actions of Israel, which is not a stalwart ally of the USA by any means. They are also firmly rooted in the actions of America and Great Britain; we ignore this at our peril. In fact, we ignore the entire history of the region at our peril, and we have done so, as comprehensively as possible, for a very long time.
Furthermore, and even more disastrously, the "perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam" were in large part "created" by "clever" Americans, who thought they were doing the world a favor.
Beginning in 1979, they recruited, armed, funded and motivated a gang of perverse and hateful radical Islamist terrorists, whom they trained in Pakistan under the watchful eye of their favorite Asian cutout, the ISI.
Once trained, the terrorists -- who were called "freedom fighters" -- were inserted into Afghanistan, to wreak havoc on the Russians. The "freedom fighters" were known as "mujahadeen" back then, but their modern offshoots are known as "Taliban" and "al Qaeda".
Barack Obama doesn't want you to know any of this. He can't allow the topic to enter into the national discourse. The reasons are many, but one is enough: The creation of the mujahadeen was the brainchild of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
What was he thinking? Wikipedia puts it this way:
In 1998, Brzezinski was interviewed by the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur on the topic of Afghanistan. He revealed that CIA support for the mujaheddin had started before the 1979 Soviet invasion and was indeed designed to prompt a Soviet invasion, leading them into a bloody conflict comparable to America's experience in Vietnam. This was referred to as the "Afghan Trap". Brzezinski viewed the end of the Soviet empire as worth the cost of strengthening militant Islamic groups.The text of the interview is here; this is the most interesting passage:
INT: How did you interpret Soviet behavior in Afghanistan, such as the April revolution, the rise of... I mean, what did you think their long-term plans were, and what did you think should be done about it?See how it works? We weren't passive. But we won't talk about what we did while we weren't being passive -- while we were trying to provoke an invasion!
ZB: I told the President, about six months before the Soviets entered Afghanistan, that in my judgment I thought they would be going into Afghanistan. And I decided then, and I recommended to the President, that we shouldn't be passive.
INT: What happened?
ZB: We weren't passive.
INT: But at the time...
INT: Right, describe your reaction when you heard that your suspicions had been fully justified: an invasion had happened.
In any case, on July 3, 1979, U.S. President Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan. The Soviets invaded in December.
INT: Reflecting on that whole situation in Afghanistan, do you think it was worth all the suffering that was involved?In other words, Americans recruited terrorists in a foreign country[*], armed and trained them and then infiltrated them into a second, so they could attack a third. And they never thought anything of it -- as if it were somehow America's divine right to foment all the terrorism it likes in foreign countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan [*] are still suffering daily from the madness unleashed there almost 30 years ago by Brzezinski and his "human rights" president, Jimmy Carter. But now the facts of this "misadventure" -- of which its architects are still quite proud -- don't belong anywhere in our national history, except possibly under the rug.
ZB: I think the Soviets made a tragic mistake, and therefore it wasn't worth their while to go in. I think it would have been a tragedy if we had allowed them to overrun the Afghans.
[* The preceding paragraph was clean and clear-cut but overly simplified in several important ways. Terrorists destined for Afghanistan were recruited from all over the Middle East, not just from Pakistan. Many of them were sent to America for training. And, of course, the list of countries which are still suffering daily from the madness thus unleashed is much longer than I have indicated. For more details on this part of the story, see my "other other blog", Visas For Terrorists.]
If ever America were to move -- hypothetically, of course -- in the direction of positive change, it would necessitate facing up to the reality of the most horrible crimes of our past, and fomenting terrorism surely must rank as one of them.
Depending on whom you believe, the terrorist group founded by Barack Obama's foreign policy advisor may have perpetrated the attacks of 9/11, and launched the so-called "Global War On Terror", which has killed so many innocent people we can't even count them all.
Alternatively, the 9/11 attacks could have been carried out much more easily by more powerful actors with more inside access; certainly the complexity of the operation and the degree of planning involved suggest some sort of inside knowledge, if not actual inside help.
Therefore it is not surprising that "the conventional wisdom" rejects all the alternative hypotheses, especially considering that this so-called wisdom is embodied, if not created, by a national "news media" which is clearly beholden to the most corrupt and militaristic of interests.
But it is remarkable to note the ferocity of the attack on Jeremiah Wright's assertion that 9/11 was in some sense "America's chickens coming home to roost". This, after all, was supposed to be the "official story": they hate us because of what we've done to their countries. It's just like the bombing of the Marines in Lebanon in 1982; American troops are stationed in places where they're unwelcome, and it's time for them to come home.
That's the way the story was supposed to go, apparently. Neglecting for the moment the obvious disparity between the official story and the observed events of the day, the idea that radical Islamic bombers would attack us in such a suicidal way because they hate what we've done to their countries is much more plausible than the idea that they would do so unprovoked by us and for no reason other than "hateful ideologies".
Nonetheless, Obama now blames "the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam" -- which were established on a terrorist footing by his own foreign policy advisor!
The line of "thinking" that led to the creation of Islamic terrorist groups is the very same line that led to the creation of death squads in Vietnam, and in Central America, and elsewhere.
The same line of "thought" has led to the overt invasion or covert subversion of countless foreign countries. The unprovoked and massively destructive assault on innocent, defenseless people in Iraq is only the latest chapter in a long and shameful history.
It's the history of the bipartisan consensus which has ruled America for more than a hundred years. And you are not supposed to know about any of it.
The people in office -- all the elephants, and virtually all the donkeys -- are addicted to a "vision" of "reality" that is in fact a web of lies. Our "news" media are heavily complicit in fabricating and distributing this distorted view of "reality", so it's no surprise that so many Americans share it.
This national, cultural delusion is nothing new; throughout human history we can find cultures entirely devoted to notions that we find quite ridiculous. But our delusion is uniquely dangerous, because our ridiculous notions are wedded to the most fearsome killing machine ever assembled.
In a well-educated democracy, the people would vote the offenders out of office. But we can't do that. We don't have a democracy. And we know virtually nothing.
Our elections can no longer be verified. Our government has ceased to be legitimate. Office-holders no longer need fear the rejection of the people they supposedly represent. And in some cases they flaunt their independence from the voters quite brazenly. It's very simple, and it's blatantly obvious, but it's a truth the American media will never tell.
And this is only one of the issues the media won't talk about.
They won't talk about the crimes committed by America overseas, in the name of liberty or democracy or protecting our interests. They will never admit the truth about our foreign policy. And therefore they cannot acknowledge the reasons why foreign terrorists hate America.
How can we win a war on terror when we don't even understand what motivates it? Strangely enough, that doesn't matter, because "we" have no intention of winning.
The point of the "Global War On Terror" is not to win but to fight. This has been clear for a long time -- since early on the day of September 11, 2001. But it's another one of the truths about America that the media will never tell, and that our national politicians, no matter how brave, will never mention.
Inevitably, many people are still trapped in the web of lies. And here I don't mean just the lies of the Bush administration, or the lies of the past generation of Republicans. These lies may be vile and critical, exceptionally vicious and ubiquitous -- but they are only the most recent examples.
I mean the lies about America -- lies about the role we play in the world, lies about the role we should play in the world, lies about who we support and why, lies about who controls the levers of power and why.
These lies are bought and sold by "leaders" of both major parties, and they've been doing it for more than a century. So if we think we can get beyond them quickly, or do so simply by voting for one party over the other, we are sadly mistaken.
We are in effect doubly trapped: we couldn't change the government by voting even if we wanted to, but most of us are so ill-informed that we don't really want to.
So how do we change that?
First and foremost, we need to focus on the truth and discard the lies. Barack Obama and his eloquent speech are not helping in this regard.
Rather than repudiating his pastor, he should have repudiated his foreign policy advisor.
Rather than distancing himself from a man who spoke the truth, he should have purged his staff of war criminals.
But Barack Obama will never do that, because he is a "serious" candidate for President of the United States. And that means that though he may show some courage by wading into the verboten field of "race in politics", he still has to embrace all the most important official lies, and he still has to reject anyone in his life who threatens the official fiction.
This is not the path to change. It is the road to hell.
But if Barack Obama were any less anxious to follow it, he wouldn't be in the position he's in today -- black or white, male or female.
The discussion continues: The Sermon Obama Repudiated Was One We All Needed To Hear