Friday, March 14, 2008

Barack's "Sounding Board" Sounds Off...The Deep End.

Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has been described as "controversial" and "provocative" but as more and more of his ex cathedra pronouncements surface it appears that "paranoid", "extremist" and "lunatic" must be added to any comprehensive description of this man of the cloth.

Some of his positions are indeed merely controversial and provocative, particularly his views on Israel and the 9/11 terror attacks. The American view that total commitment to Israel is the moral duty of everyone of good will is nonsense. Strenuous opposition to the Arab desire for her extirpation is of course virtuous but to see the core Middle East conflict through manichean spectacles of absolute good pitted against absolute evil is wrongheaded and, as is clear, does nothing to bring about a peaceful - or even less blood-soaked - solution.

Similarly, one can condemn the 9/11 attacks as appalling terrorist atrocities calling for the most severe countermeasures and still argue that the policies of successive Washington Administrations contributed to turning bin Laden from just another sectarian hate-monger into the iconic leader of a worldwide jihad. Indeed an open exchange of views is the only way to develop a genuine strategic understanding of the militant Islamist mindset.

Now the Reverend's positions on Israel and 9/11 are more extreme than that but he is throwing his tuppence worth into what should be - though rarely is - a rational debate on vital issues affecting not only the US but the whole world. It is when he turns his baleful gaze exclusively upon his own country that Minister Wright takes flight into the higher reaches of paranoia and hate and becomes a full-blown blood-curdling, ranting, foaming at the mouth, anti-racist racist.

"Racism is alive and well," he thunders. "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. No black man will ever be considered for president, no matter how hard you run Jesse [Jackson] and no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body." To use such language in 1966 would have been unexceptional. It is difficult to argue that forty years ago such a characterization of America was anything other than at worst a slight exaggeration. But Reverend Wright was speaking in 2006 and these days his words are not simply hyperbolic they're downright inflammatory and paranoid.

He fleshes out this theory of rampant racism with fulminations that are as fearsome as they are fantastical. The US government developed AIDS to decimate the black population. It connives with international drug lords to flood the African-American communities with narcotics to the same end. Caring "nothing about human life if the end justifies the means", Americans are wedded to a brutal philosophy of "white supremacy and black inferiority". Indeed this is the true religion of a people who seek to "maintain [their] level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty".

This is not the whole story. As anyone who has witnessed him in the full frenzy of his rapture can attest, Jeremiah Wright is a powerful, passionate and gifted orator. In the pulpit he can "shuck and jive" with the best of them. He weaves, sways and swivels. He pumps the air with the vigor of a Tyson going in for the kill. He roars and bellows, cackles and growls. He scolds, excoriates and denounces with the divine disdain of an Hebrew prophet. He slips in sly asides and bawdy innuendos. His words come in a terrific torrent, driven by a pent up righteous wrath that will never know relief. Through his sermons he sculpts towering monuments of sound and fury to the eternal suffering, humiliation and despair of his people. He is the Black Milton of a Paradise Denied.

He is also a demagogue. And very dangerous because of his talents. Where Obama inspires, he inflames. Where Obama soothes, he rouses. Where Obama conjures hope in the heart, he calls up rage in the bowels. Where Obama brings the nation together, he cleaves it in twain. Where Obama transcends race, he lusts for it, seizes it, possesses it even as he loathes it and its power over him and his people. Where Obama senses he is a Great Man, he knows he is already a Mighty One for he has made his peace with his downfall and like Lucifer strains every sinew to drag us puny mortals into his fiery pit.

He is bizarro-Obama. Darth Vader to Obama's Anakin Skywalker.

This is why the Pastor wields power over the Senator who reveres him. Jeremiah Wright supplies his wants. Obama, for all his eloquence and magnetism, is a latté politician, blended and bland. There is too much milk in him to tickle the connoisseur's palate. He lacks bite, body. He is Beauty and Wright is the Beast to whom he is inexorably, inexplicably, irrevocably attracted. Like the timid boy to the bully. For Obama lacks courage. He is essentially effete, as are his devotees. This sets the bounds to his triumphant march. He cannot touch the hearts of the working class no more than Frazier and Niles can buddy up with Martin and his pal Duke.

Obama is still young enough and gifted enough to have all of life's great prizes in his reach. But he cannot grasp the greatest of them all which glitters tantalizingly just beyond his fingertips. As has been frequently remarked, he is no closer. Why? Because he has everything to lose and he fears a misstep - any misstep - that may cause him to stumble so near his goal. So he stands still, neither advancing nor drawing back. To gain his end he must fill the vessel of his candidacy, golden but empty, with something more nourishing that a double latté with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

In a word he must define himself. But he will not because he cannot. Not simply because he lacks courage but because he lacks guts. Guts, that which we find when we reach down deep, oh so deep into ourselves. That irreducible essence that makes us us. The self each individual refers to when he says "myself". It is our "No" to fate. Its what made Michelangelo paint the "Last Judgment", Lincoln fight a Civil War and - for it is admirable only if the person is good - it's what compelled Hitler to invade Russia.

Of course some of us never find it and let our lives drift in the meandering stream of the passing years.

Jeremiah Wright may be paranoid and delusional and a false prophet to his people but he has guts. He found them somewhere long ago in a childhood poisoned by hate and contempt.

Hillary has guts. She found them in 1992 with the Gennifer Flowers humiliation. And again this year in New Hampshire.

John McCain has guts. He found them forty years ago in Hanoi.

So now we know who the two candidates for the Presidency will be in the Year of the Lord 2008.

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