Swiftboating Obama: The Brown Blob of Black Radicalism

For the past few days I have witnessed Barack Obama supporters of all stripes denounce Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Progressives are reveling in this newfound opportunity for Senator Obama to throw Rev. Wright out like yesterday’s garbage. Many African Americans are depicting Rev. Wright as an egotistical Judas having sold out our presidential messiah for fifteen minutes of fame. And even some of Rev. Wright’s fellow black clergy have attempted to distance themselves from the media circus that has become the “Reverend Wright Controversy.”

Its time to get a grip! The furor over Rev. Wright is not about his ability or inability to explain slivered and sliced sermons looped out of context. It is not about his “performance” before the National Press Club. Nor is this an “attack on the black church,” as Rev. Wright claimed. When this campaign season is over, Rev. Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ will be an irrelevant afterthought to the many critics who incessantly called for “clarification and understanding” of black liberation theology. And, most likely, Rev. Wright’s name will be unfortunately reduced to a negative descriptive modifier of this political moment akin to Donna Rice, Willie Horton and Jennifer Flowers. In short, the “Reverend Wright Controversy” has nothing to do with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

To the contrary, the controversy is about those who have a stake in derailing Senator Obama’s presidential candidacy. Forces from the political right and within the Democratic Party realize that the best way to disrupt America’s love affair with this “post-racial” and “post-partisan” senator turned political savior is to demystify the narrative. The strategy is simple: reduce Senator Obama’s brown body into a hyper-racial stereotype that a critical mass of Americans are more comfortable with yet invariably fear. Hence, opponents are able to politically balkanize Senator Obama by racially “otherizing” him in the minds of those who view him through skeptic lenses.

In recent weeks, some have cast him as Barack “Hussein” Obama, the radical Islamo-fascist who, by virtue of an Arabic sounding name, must sympathize with “the terrorists.” Others have used his relationship with the media sound-bitten Rev. Wright to prove that Obama is the quintessential “angry black man” cut from the same cloth as America’s top two racial public enemies Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And the “Bittergate” controversy in Pennsylvania allowed Hillary Clinton to present Senator Obama to some white blue-collar voters as an out of touch elite—language that can be interpreted as “uppity” according to the rules of the racial lexicon.

Moreover, the latest media frenzy seems to prove that Senator Obama is in a no-win situation in terms of Rev. Wright. Despite Senator Obama’s public denouncements of his former pastor, many argued that the senator’s protestations were little more than a smokescreen. But now Rev. Wright has made it clear that the pastor/parishioner relationship ends in the church vestibule. Wright even declared that if his most famous member were elected to the presidency, Obama’s church affiliation would not place him above critique. Yet critics continue to declare the relationship inappropriate. Senator Obama is caught in a double bind. When Senator Obama distanced himself from Rev. Wright, it was not good enough. When Rev. Wright distances himself from Senator Obama, it is still not good enough.

This tells me that the whole “Rev. Wright Controversy” is little more than a political swift-boating propelled by a racial engine. Thus repeated denunciations, public diss matches and derogatory comments are futile. Rev. Wright is neither running for public office nor concerned about proper etiquette at the National Press Club (clearly!). He has simply become a pawn in this sordid chess game of presidential politics. And Senator Obama’s opponents can declare checkmate by conflating Obama and Wright into an undifferentiated brown blob of black radicalism simply by having their names broadcast together in a twenty-four hour news cycle. So chill out Obamamaniacs with the Rev. Wright hate mail. You better conserve your energy and anger. Rev. Wright may be America’s radical and racial scapegoat of choice this week. But believe me, he will not be the last.

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