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Obama still has a Rev. Wright problem

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Steven Stark says that Obama's pastor has tarnished his image as America's annointed savior:

What makes Obama unique politically is how quasi-religious he is; he doesn’t orate, he preaches, stressing “above politics” (heavenly?) solutions. His style is especially noteworthy given that he hails from the political party whose members tend to be ostensibly far less religious than their counterparts across the aisle. That, in fact, helps explain a large part of Obama’s appeal to Democratic voters, especially those who are young. Being an Obama-ite is to be part of a new faith for a constituency that often lacks a more traditional one. Perhaps not surprising, many have remarked how Obama has attracted a kind of religious devotion in his followers, unmatched by any other political figure in decades.

Which brings us back to Obama’s relationship with Wright. In a nation where politics and religion are so intertwined — at least rhetorically — it’s never a good idea to be intimately associated with those who spend a lot of time trashing either God or America (which, to a good many Americans, are pretty much the same thing). It’s particularly inadvisable for a candidate who’s based virtually his whole appeal on his ability to be a kind of quasi-religious figure who can purge our politics of negativity and unite the nation in a common goal.

Yet that’s exactly what has happened to Obama. One can — and Obama did — come up with a litany of good reasons why Wright might have chosen his particular words. And one can — again, Obama did — make an eloquent argument as to why the attitudes Wright articulates indicate a need for further racial understanding.

But what Obama will never be able to explain away is why, of all the people in the world who could inspire him on a weekly basis, he chose the one who was known to exclaim, “God damn America,” and preached a gospel not particularly distinguished by an appeal to everyone’s better nature. Alas, we are judged by the company we keep — as well we should be, when the company is a chief spiritual advisor.

In truth, Americans are an understanding lot and can tolerate the thunderings of the Wrights among us. Professors, prophets, and priests have hurled fire and brimstone before, and now radio talk-show hosts do the same.

But political leaders in our system, going back to Winthrop, have a different role: we look to them to elevate and inspire the body politic. Until now, Obama appeared uniquely qualified to assume that role. After hearing his reverend preach, however, it’s an open question whether a majority of Americans will ever look at him the same way again.

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