Friday, April 18, 2008

Controversy By Association -- A Bad Idea

The Media, the Clinton campaign, and I am assured, in time, the GOP, have and will continue to make great hay out of the fact that the Rev. Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, has some ideas about HIV, or said he had those ideas, that are fairly crazy.

I think there's a limit to how much crap one should have to accept for beliefs of people that candidates associate with.

Frankly, I feel the same way about McCain's 2006 reconciliation with Rev. Falwell. Rev. Falwell, as you will recall, said, in regard to the 9/11 attacks:

And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."
--Jerry Falwell, quoted in the Washington Post, 9/14/01.

It is the nature of life, the nature of politics, and the nature perhaps of spiritual belief that we sometimes take the bad with the good, that we respect people in part for whom we see some really dumbshit ideas in other places. I'm sure that, having read this blog, you think I have some pretty dumbshit ideas, and yet you continue to read it. QED. :)

I do think it was fair to ask Sen. Obama how he feels about Rev. Wrights statements about HIV, I similarly think it's fair to ask Sen. McCain about Falwell's comments about whether gays and atheists and people who give a damn about civil liberties are the responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But I don't think there's any reason to take Obama's repudiation of those beliefs, or any repudiation that McCain would make (if anyone bothered to ask him, that is) about Falwell's beliefs, at less than face value. Asked and answered--can we please move the hell on to things that actually matter, like Iraq, the ethics of torture, the budget debt, the housing crisis, or the coming demise of Social Security and Medicare? I'd appreciate it, thanks.


Michael said...

I think there's a difference in the degree of association that's important to consider, though. If this is someone who has led a church that you've been a part of for twenty years, that's a different thing than someone who just has vaguely similar political leanings, or some random dude who lives in your neighborhood.

If you choose to associate yourself with a person who is regularly expected to make pronouncements on sensitive political issues, and you keep that association active even though the person says some batshit-crazy things, you're opening yourself up for criticism. If you want to get the benefits from associating with that person and that organization when it's convenient, and distance yourself when it's not, then you don't get to use it as political cover.

If Obama would come out and say something like, "Yes, Reverend Wright is totally whacked out on some issues, and there's no way I support those positions; however, it's not possible for me to be elected to my Senate seat without presenting myself as a member of that church, so I decided to do it anyway", then he'd be able to shrug this off. However, that would be a cynical act worthy of (gasp!) a politician, and he's trying to present himself as above things like that. It's a hard trick for a Chicago Democrat to manage, and I doubt it can be done against the Republican national apparatus in the fall, but let's hope I'm wrong.

Joe said...


I disagree. I think it's unfair of you to suggest that Obama hasn't distanced himself from those opinions, he both did so but also demonstrated a framework for how he had compassion for where those whacked-out beliefs came from, if you haven't actually heard or read the speech in which he clearly made those points, well, you should.

It's similarly unfair of you to suggest that McCain's connection to Falwell is merely one of "vaguely similar political leanings". As I demonstrated in the link I provided.

However, if you want to throw out any candidate who is a member of a church led by someone with crackpot beliefs of any sort, then I think I'd have to rule out voting, myself, for any Catholic. (For the record, I do not rule that out.) It is my belief that Pope Benedict's authoring, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, sent out to a letter essentially requesting the apparatus of the church to not proactively report sexual abuse of minors to authorities. Many states of the US have mandated reporting laws for all adults--laws which would make that silence illegal per se. In this way, the current Pope can fairly be seen as the leader of a conspiracy to protect child molesters, a conspiracy which did result in direct serious harm.

Nonetheless, it would be a stretch to think that any Catholic that I might vote for might support this conspiracy, or the potentially increased incidence of child molestation it, in my opinion, led to.

Michael said...

I disagree.

I figured as much. :)

I think it's unfair of you to suggest that Obama hasn't distanced himself from those opinions, he both did so but also demonstrated a framework for how he had compassion for where those whacked-out beliefs came from, if you haven't actually heard or read the speech in which he clearly made those points, well, you should.

Oh, I've read it, watched it, read discussion of it... I just haven't been convinced by it. He's certainly attempted to distance himself from those opinions once they started getting national press, but he didn't do anything to visibly distance himself over the twenty years before that. In his Philadelphia speech, Obama says "...just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed"; when I heard a pastor express something that I found deeply offensive, I left that church as soon as I was able to do so. Sure, I was drifting as teenage boys are wont to do, but I still wasn't willing to put up with things that I found offensive. I continue to hold to that; if my current pastor were to say something as offensive as Rev. Wright has, I'd talk to him, and if he didn't apologize from the pulpit, I'd end my affiliation with that church.

As to anything about McCain... go back and carefully read what I wrote. There isn't a single mention of John McCain anywhere in there. I know you put it in your original post, and while I'll still argue there's a qualitative difference between Obama's relationship with Wright and McCain's relationship with Falwell, I had something more in mind like the Bill Ayers thing. While I think there are legitimate questions about Rev. Wright, Trinity UCC, and Obama's relationship with them, it's a whole different kettle of fish to have some vague connection with a former Weatherman, even one who is as unrepentant as Ayers.

I'm pretty certain John F. Kennedy shot down the Catholic thing, too. As a former Protestant (and now a non-Christian Unitarian Universalist), the opinions of the Pope never carried a lot of water with me based on his position as Bishop of Rome. I have always been willing to look at Papal arguments from my own perspective, but I'm rarely working from the same set of postulates used there.

I gather that many American Catholics are also unwilling to accept "His Holiness said so, that's why" as a reason to do much of anything. They're much more likely to listen to their local priests and bishops, and to listen to their own consciences. This holds true in many other denominations -- it's why some Episcopalians are seeking to get away from the other US Episcopal churches and affiliate themselves with more conservative African branches of that church, for one example.