As a supporter of Barack Obama (and donor), it is hard for me to bring up issues that will damage his chances of election this year. But the truth is more important than politics, as Obama's former pastor hinted at in his speech to the National Press Club this week.
"Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls," said Wright. "Preachers say what they say because they are pastors. They have a different person to whom they're accountable."
Wright's comments are certainly ill timed for Obama's election campaign, but he is not wrong.
Obama, although infinitely better than Hillary Clinton and John McCain, has certainly altered some of his core beliefs in order to get himself elected. One of the best example of this is his stance on Israel. Having taken a reasoned and balanced view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict early in his career, Obama quietly saddled up to AIPAC (America's Pro Israel Lobby) and sold out the Palestinians for his White House career. While residents of the Gaza strip are entrapped in virtual prison, routinely shot at by Israeli troops, tanks and planes (all in violation of international law), Obama stated publicly that he supported Israeli actions and would not negotiate with Hamas. When asked whether he would meet with them, Obama stated:
"The answer is no and the distinction would be that Hamas is represented in the Palestinian legislature, or it was before the current rift, but they're not the head of state. They are not a recognized government. So I think there is a distinction to be drawn there and a legitimate distinction to be drawn"
Having (rightly) lectured Clinton on the need to talk to America's enemies, Obama wrangled his way out of offending Israel with a meaningless semantic technicality. Although politicians, including Obama, routinely refer to Israel as 'the only democracy in the Middle East', the existence of free and fair elections in Palestine is simply ignored. The overwhelming election of Hamas in 2006 was certified by the U.N, then rejected out of hand by the U.S and Europe. Obama supports democracy, but only when the vote goes the way he wants it to.
Obama's shifting stance on Israel, support for privatized medical care and relatively conservative economic agenda are signs that Obama has taken the necessary steps to become electable. Obama knows that he cannot threaten the enormous concentrated power interest that dominate American life, and has cobbled together a package that does not offend the business community too gravely.
"As far as political positioning goes, his strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist," writes Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. "One who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view, and conversely emphasizes that when he does take hard positions on issues, he often does so reluctantly."
Obama manages to seamlessly affiliate himself with just about every political persuasion on the spectrum. He is pro Republican and pro Democrat, pro 2nd Amendment and pro gun control, pro globalization, and anti NAFTA, pro tax cut and tax break, and pro universal health care without enforcing or paying for it. Obama wants to get out of Iraq while staying there, and wants to change the political system while playing it.
As Taibi writes, "You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum."
This is of course, the game of politics, and it would be suicidal for him not to appeal to as many people as possible. However, many people, including myself, believe that Obama's true beliefs are much further to the left.
Rev. Wright's views on race and America are certainly outside the mainstream, and while Obama says he finds them offensive, he did not find them objectionable enough to leave his church for over 20 years. Wright is not running for office so has no reason to lie about Obama's true beliefs. When he implies Obama really agrees with him on core issues, there should be little reason to doubt him.
Wright may not be accurate when speaking about the introduction of AIDs to the African American community by the U.S Government, but he is correct when speaking out about its horrendous crimes committed against the Black community and the terrorist wars it has waged internationally. Infecting African Americans with AIDs would be one of the lesser crimes committed by the U.S government as compared to slavery and wars of aggression against Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps we should ask why such mistrust of Government exists within African American communities, rather than vilifying people like Rev. Wright. Having gone to Vietnam himself and fought the domestic battles to ensure people like Obama's equality, Wright's mistrust of government is completely understandable in context. He should not be painted as an extremist, and Obama knows it.
There is a deep social conscience present in the former community organizer from Chicago, one that nobly stood against the attack on Iraq, and one that has done much to elevate political debate in America. But Obama cannot align himself with Wright's views for political purposes, and has essentially left his former pastor out to dry.
As Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, "Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times." Running for the highest office in the land requires such a change, and despite a concerted effort to avoid it, Obama has killed off an integral part of himself in order to be successful.
It must have hurt Obama immensely to do so, but it is a task he has already become adept at. As Rev. Wright said in his speech, Obama is now accountable to the sound bites and polls that will make or break him. The sound bites and polls have come out against Rev. Wright, and now so too has Obama.