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Web Letter

Within the body of this article the following is stated: "Evangelical Christians believe that anyone who has not accepted Jesus as his personal lord and saviour will be sadistically tortured for the rest of eternity." While it is impossible to contend that each and every evangelical does not believe this, as it stands this statement is a bold and wrong-headed misrepresentation, one the likes of which evangelicals have become accustomed on the part of the secular press, who lazily caricature evangelical beliefs without so much as taking the time to find out what is really believed and how increasingly complex and nuanced the evangelical community is becoming. I thought this was supposed to be investigative journalism--so much for the investigation piece of it.

So, my suggestion for the future is: do your homework--find out what is truly believed before broadstroking. If you do not, you end up looking foolish and losing your own credibility, since it has long been the case that erecting a straw man only to tear it down is the worst way to get at the truth of a matter.

Lindy Backues

Philadelphia, PA

Mar 23 2008 - 10:08pm

Web Letter

This uproar, which I am afraid is not likely to go away, and will certainly cause Obama great damage, is not as much about race as it is about the stranglehold that concervatives hold over information in our society--the consolidation of all electronic and print media that, though begun in earnest in the 1980s, was solidified by Bill Clinton's signing of the Telecommunication Act of 1996. This latest Obama controversy was fully contrived and manipulated by conservative elements of the MSM. It will be very difficult for any true progressive--whether black or white--to gain national power in this America. To put it simply: without a free press there is no democracy.

John Giarratana

Jersey City, NJ

Mar 19 2008 - 7:17am

Web Letter

The problem is this paragraph in Obama's speech:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country--a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

Obama is 100 percent agreeing with the critics of Wright on the substance. Hayes is right: much of what Wright is criticized for saying is, in fact, true. But Obama, at least publicly, refuses to acknowledge the truth that Wright speaks and instead denounces the speaking of the truth in very strong terms.

Obama is pandering to the establishment and wrapping himself in our blood-stained flag, as he has for his entire political career. His great rhetoric gets much of the change constituency to back him, even though there is no substance behind it, and meanwhile he rakes in millions from the establishment because substantively he has made very clear that he won't rock the boat.

He is a very intelligent politician, but he does not offer any real hope of addressing the fundamental problems in America.

Bill Samuel

Silver Spring, MD

Mar 18 2008 - 2:05pm

Web Letter

The issue has just been turned on its head, brilliantly, by Obama. Read it all here. Obama's eloquent & inspirational speech will be discussed for decades to come.

He will make a great President, if he is allowed to go that far.

R.H. Weber

Geneva, Switzerland

Mar 18 2008 - 12:00pm

Web Letter

Thanks for your excellent article; I agree in almost all respects. But while I do think that the issues of race and religion for Obama, and for that matter gender for Clinton, are issues that they should not have to confront, the fact is many if not most Americans (nor those in other countries) are not beyond them, or likely ever (completely) will be.

For that reason I look at this campaign as an important opportunity to confront these issues, and look forward to Obama's speech to see how he handles it. Whatever he says I will take him at his word, but for me (a white, recently retired multinational businessman, pushing 60 but still reasonably true to my pragmatic liberal/progressive rural midwest Proxmire roots) it could be a tipping point. Do I continue to support him over Clinton, a decision I made (on the proverbial hope and a prayer) just before the February 5 primaries, or do I revert to Clinton, whose views I also respect? Neither has yet exhibited the pragmatic progressive tendencies I want (as numerous excellent writers here in The Nation, in TAP and in other publications have detailed). But a stay the course McCain is absolutely no alternative, either in foreign policy (the nuances of which are clearly furr'n to him) or economic policy ('nuff said).

So yes, I think Obama does need to confront the "problem," but as an opportunity to clearly define where he stands, and yes, as you write, focusing on the substance, but expressed in his "form." But what form will that be?

Frankly, I didn't see anything inflammatory in Wright's remarks. In the snippets on 9/11 and AIDS I saw on MSNBC last Thursday (or Friday). How could Scarborough or Matthews reasonably leap to the conclusion that this exhibited black militancy, blaming the 3,000 victims for 9/11 or white America for AIDS? Apparently due to their own prejudices coupled with cognitive dissonance, as George Will might put it; except George was also "outraged" (on the Sunday news show) by Wright's statements. Surely they've heard of blowback, and while neocons prefer to ignore it or vilify it, it is an issue America needs to address through actions not by slick advertising. And AIDS, let's not forget in the 1980s when it first surfaced its ugly head, it was black people from deepest Africa (OMG!) who "originated it" and "bestial" gays who "deservedly" were infected with it.

I did take some exception to Wright's comment that (paraphrased) "Hillary don't understand black people, 'cause she ain't never been called a n....r." If I were a woman, and had been in the audience that day I would have said; "Amen, brother! But since you ain't never been called a bitch or ho, should us women here get up and leave right now?" But you know after learning more about Mr. Wright, I think he would have responded, "Amen, sister, I'll take that up next week". Or even more likely, "Where you been, sister? That was my sermon last week"

You see, he clearly preaches a message (exuberant in form) of tolerance and social justice; like most other reverends and priests and rabbis and Buddhist monks and Muslim clerics as they should. It is those who preach intolerance, regardless of faith (or lack thereof) who should be vilified.

So while allowing that Obama should clarify his form for expressing these issues, he should defend his friend's substance (and also attack the slurs against Muslims). If not, I'll let my wife and daughter update me on Hillary's situation as I turn my focus to her campaign.

* * *As an addendum to my pre-speech thoughts, I heard Barack's speech and I'm sticking with the 'Bama wagon. He and his speech were magnificent. Notwithstanding Buchanon's ever clueless remarks on MSNBC--and in answer to Joe Scarborough question, "Will it sell"? I personally could care less.

From my vantage point, he clearly became a leader of presidential stature today and an important force for social progress in America and the world, whether he wins the nomination and election or not.

Joe Kennedy

N. Andover, MA

Mar 18 2008 - 11:14am

Web Letter

Obama is toast! Burnt toast! Let's greet president-elect McCain.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Mar 18 2008 - 8:33am

Web Letter

I wholeheartedly agree with author's analyses and his conclusion: if Obama loses the nomination and the presidency because of the views of his pastor, America be damned by "god." The entire episode re-emphasizes the obvious truth: how divided this country is when it comes to blacks and whites, because of the material fact of the history of this country. But it does not negate the argument Obama is trying to make, i.e., that even with the differences, there must be progress within the framework of collective living the society finds itself. Therefore, we have to find common ground to address national needs.

What concerns me is the toxicity religion brings to politics, in this and in many other countries. Though an atheist, I have never found it appealing to proclaim my convictions in social life, beyond support of tolerance and coexistence of different view points, on the basis of the explicit fact that all human collectives are inherently heterogenous, and that includes diversity of "faith." Now I wonder if we should passively accept religion in public, political life. It is clear that unless we find a way to secularize politics, we are sure to be materially doomed. I was heartened when in an earlier speech, Obama spoke of tolerance of all "faiths" and he included the atheists. Perhaps the atheists should not remain closeted, and join openly all those who, out of good sense, demand divorcing religion from our politics. Surely secularizing of politics needs to be a full-time militant endeavor on a much larger basis than it has been so far if we are to make any progress.

M. Siddique

Chevy Chase, MD

Mar 18 2008 - 8:30am

Web Letter

The vile anti-Semitism among American blacks is equal to and sometimes worse than the hatred of Jews in Arab countries. Jews account for less than 2 percent of the population in America. They are teachers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, salesman, computer programmers etc., etc. Jews do not head the oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, automobile companies or major manufacturers and are normal, everyday citizens in normal everyday jobs. The President and Vice President are not Jews, neither is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or the Speaker of the House of Representatives. There is no candidate running for President who is Jewish, but yet blacks intensely hate Jews for no reason whatsoever. When Tim Russert asked Obama about Farrakhan, Obama did respond correctly about healing the breach between blacks and Jews, but how can you heal the breach when you sat there for twenty years hearing your pastor attack Jews and you kept silent? If Hillary Clinton or John McCain were enthusiastic members of a church for twenty years that constantly and openly demeaned and debased blacks with vile hateful rhetoric, do you really believe the Democratic and Republican parties would allow them to be their nominee? There is a double standard, and the Pied Piper of Chicago is getting away with something no white politician who sat idly by while their pastor's anti-Semitic rantings continued without end would ever be granted a pass on.

Mark Jeffery Koch

Cherry Hill , NJ

Mar 18 2008 - 5:54am

Web Letter

It is a strength of Obama that he makes himself hear the anger and rage of those trapped at the bottom of the well. They are trapped in the black gulags, after all, due to FHA policies, employer discrimination and a discriminatory judicial system.We need a President who knows how blacks live, in part because their desperation is now more widespread--it has spread into deindustrialized communities everywhere. Outsourcing is real. The resulting despair and nihilism are real.

A Christian is duty-bound to see the faces of the poor and to hear their voices. But a politician is not obligated to submit to that anger, fear, resentment and nihilism. He is only bound to hear it and to respond practically and democratically to it. And who denies that this has been Obama's response?

I am not religious, but the Christian spirit is one of universal love. Should Obama have walked away from this Church where the poor and the racially despised of the Southside Chicago live? Should he have said, I shall not commune with you because your poverty and desperation and humiliation sometimes turns to hate and irrationality?

This is perhaps what "operatives" think a winning politician should do, but we should tell the operatives that this is a time to throw our support behind a man who is intelligent enough to know what he was risking but not cutting himself off from the social gospel of Wright's Church and from not bolting for a respectable middle-class Church in which they don't have to grapple with the destruction of lives and hope everyday.

Now, Wright's comments on 9-11 are stupid and nasty. Our unjustifiable use of nuclear weapons on a civilian population whose government was already willing to surrender has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. But do note that nowhere does Wright say that innocent Americans deserved to die for the policies of the US state. He said: in grappling with the terror we have suffered, let us fight for a world where neither clandestine groups nor states engage in terror.

A lot of people were off balance after 9-11. At any rate, as the dust literally settled, no candidate has spoken more at length about a ruthless pursuit of Al Qaeda.

It is, however, a matter of importance that we don't give Al Qaeda recruiting points, which is what our suspension of habeas corpus, approval of torture, detention centers, use of cluster bombs and threats of annihilation against Iran are.

Operatives may go crazy against Wright, thinking that this statement will doom Obama. But many British citizens are livid at Blair for his support of Bush's war, as they think that such an act of aggression has now brought terror to their soil. What an ordinary British citizen can say and think without threat to her respectability should be within bounds for a black preacher.

A.L. Hartal

Walnut Creek, CA

Mar 17 2008 - 6:25pm

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