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Obama's Grandmother

Posted: 03/24/08 06:47 PM ET

Two of America's leading black intellectuals, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, recently had the best conversation I've yet seen about Barack Obama's race speech, one that's worth watching in full, but that struck me as particularly interesting when it turned to the question of the candidate's grandmother.

Obama's critics have seized on the following passage, which refers to Reverend Jeremiah Wright:

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.


These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

These words inspired Rich Lowry, Ann Coulter and Powerline to dub the oration "the throw grandma under the bus" speech.

Said Dinesh D'Souza: "So what is the explanation for the bizarre moral equivalence that he seeks to create between his pastor and his grandmother?"

Discussing such critiques, Glenn Loury gives the most eloquent summation I've seen of why Obama isn't drawing a moral equivalence between his grandmother and Rev. Wright. It's worth giving a listen.

But I want to offer a separate observation that I haven't seen elsewhere.

Let's look again at the first bit of that passage from the speech: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother..."

Obama juxtaposes Rev. Wright and the black community; using the same construction, he then juxtaposes Rev. Wright and his grandmother. If looking at that language you imagine that Obama is drawing a moral equivalence between Rev. Wright and his grandmother, mustn't you also conclude that Obama is drawing a moral equivalence between Rev. Wright and the whole black community? After all, Obama's grandmother and the black community occupy the same spots in the parallel construction.

Personally, I don't think Obama is drawing any moral equivalences here -- I can no more divine Obama's thoughts than I can divine God's thoughts, yet I don't think Obama and God are equally mysterious.

It is weird, however, that the people who do think Obama's construction implies moral equivalence are outraged that he is comparing his grandmother to a bigot like Wright... and apparently totally untroubled by the fact that -- by their logic -- he is meanwhile drawing a moral equivalence between all blacks and a bigot.

If they really buy into their own logic shouldn't they be outraged by that, too?