Praying and Preying
Barack Obama has spent his life, and campaign, trying not to be the Angry Black Man.
Early on, he wrote in “Dreams From My Father,” he discerned the benefits of playing against the ’60s stereotype of black militancy.
“I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he said. “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”
Obama and his aides often brag about his Zenlike serenity. “I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
The next morning, he was hurtled into the worst political crisis of his life. On Tuesday, the Sort Of Angry Black Man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by The Really Angry Black Man.
Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke. “When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it,” Obama said. “It contradicts everything I am about and who I am.” He said that the riffs of the man he prayed with before his announcement speech give “comfort to those who prey on hate.”
Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.
He’s back on the tricky path he faced as a child, navigating between two racial cultures. At Trinity, he may have ignored what he should have heard because he was trying to assimilate to black culture. Now, he may be outraged by what he belatedly heard because he’s trying to relate to the white lunch-pail set.
Having been deserted at age 2 by his father, Obama has now been deserted by the father-figure in his church, the man who inspired him to become a Christian, married him, dedicated his house, baptized his children, gave him the title of his second book and theme for his presidential run and worked on his campaign.
At the very moment when his fate hangs in the balance, when he is trying to persuade white working-class voters that he is not an exotic stranger with radical ties, the vainglorious Rev. Wright kicks him in the stomach. In a narcissistic explosion that would impress Bill Clinton, the preacher dragged Obama into the ’60s maelstrom that he had pledged to be an antidote to. In two days worth of solipsistic rants, the man of faith committed at least four of the seven deadly sins — wrath, envy, pride and greed (book and lecture fees?) — while grandiosely claiming he was defending the black church.
He was certainly sore at Obama, after helping him get connected in Chicago politics, for distancing himself. But he was also clearly envious that Obama has been hailed by his flock as the halo-wearing Redeemer of America’s hope.
If Obama was going to co-opt his role as charismatic evangelist, why couldn’t he morph into a spinning politician? Obama’s anger, an unused muscle, had to be stoked by his advisers, who pressed him with drooping poll numbers and the video of Wright at the National Press Club. He again heard the preacher turning Farrakhan into an American idol, and his flame-throwing assertions that the U.S. government had infected blacks with the AIDS virus and had brought terrorist attacks on itself by practicing terrorism abroad.
But in the end, it was Wright showing “disrespect” by implying that Obama was a phony that sparked the candidate’s slow-burning temper. “What I think particularly angered me,” he said, “was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing.”
For some, Obama didn’t offer enough outrage. “He talks about Reverend Wright violating his core beliefs as if he is detailing why he doesn’t like cheesecake or cream cheese,” said one Hillary Democrat. “He’s more passionate about basketball.”
The Illinois senator doesn’t pay attention to the mythic nature of campaigns, but if he did, he would recognize the narrative of the classic hero myth: The young hero ventures out on an adventure to seek a golden fleece or an Oval Office; he has to kill monsters and face hurdles before he returns home, knocks off his father and assumes the throne.
Tuesday was more than a Sister Souljah moment; it was a painful form of political patricide. “I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency,” Obama said.
In a campaign that’s all about who’s vetted, maybe he should have.