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Obama, Crypto-Lefty? I Never Thought So | The Nation

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Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes

Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

Obama, Crypto-Lefty? I Never Thought So

I originally wrote the following to Joan Walsh in response to her recent piece at Salon. But after sending it I realized that by e-mailing her privately, I was conspiring to impose a liberal agenda on a fellow journalist! So, I figured in the spirit of openness I'd just publish it here. I feel like the entire explosion of words devoted to JournoList has a sort of fiddling-while-Rome-burns feel to it, but I guess I'm not going to escape playing a few bars myself.

Hey, Joan:

For the record: I like you, too! And thought your piece on the shame of right-wing journalism was astute and suitably outraged. But I also felt like your characterization of me and my views was sloppy and unfair. If there's a God of Journalism, I'm sure she is looking very unkindly on me even taking the time to write this (the world needs exactly zero more minutes of mental energy expended on JournoList but because I respect you and take your writing seriously, I felt I had to respond.

First, a factual correction: You write "And while I don't think anyone on the JournoList directly took Hayes' or Ackerman's suggestion that they call people who raised the Wright issue 'racist' ..."

That apostrophe at the end of my name creates a claim that I suggested people accuse those who raise the Wright issue of being racist. I didn't. Not in the thread or anywhere else, so far as I can tell. It's not really my style. If I had, I'd be happy to be whacked for it. But I didn't. That sentence is just factually wrong.

I'm not quite sure what in my emails makes me a "combative Obama zealot," nor do I think I engaged in "Obama worship" but, OK, fair enough: I wanted Obama to win, and I wrote as much. If you think my devotion to him was particularly slavish, then there's little I can do to disabuse you of that sentiment. (I'll note that I more or less entirely avoided, in my public writing, food fights with Hillary Clinton supporters, or even going after Clinton.)

What rankles though is your use of the adjective "feverish." You write: "In fact, if you read the story, you'll see that several people are quoted strongly disagreeing with the feverish suggestions of Hayes and Ackerman..." Once again I find myself yoked to Ackerman. He's a friend, and a reporter I greatly admire. But we do actually have different stated opinions. In terms of what I wrote, I'm not quite sure what qualifies as "feverish." My (admittedly purple) riff on the consequences of the American empire? Maybe it was rhetorically indulgent, but every single thing I said was true. We do disappear people. We do torture people. And the combined civilian casualites from the US-led sanction regime combined with the US war is up near a million. The only "suggestion" I made is that people chose to write about things other than Jeremiah Wright. Does that really count as "feverish"?

Finally, there's the part that is mostly just confusing. You contrast my argument for why Wright wasn't important,with the fact that now I'm criticizing Obama from the left! But the two have nothing to do with each other. I've been dragged into an argument you want to make about Obamaphiles blinding themselves to his true nature. I get that: you're saying, "I told you so." But my defense of Wright doesn't have any real ideological valence, or relevance to progressive disappointment with Obama. The issues are orthogonal. To the extent they're related, they actually confound your analysis. The argument that Wright was deserving of so much attention was grounded in the notion that it was revealing of Obama's judgment, perhaps even his politics. Among the right and some supporters of Clinton, Wright was seen as the Rosetta Stone that translated Obama's language of national uplift into its radical original tongue. In other words it was the people focusing on Wright who were making the implicit claim that Obama was really some kind of crypto lefty. Not me. I was making the claim that it just didn't really matter one way or the other.

Now, say what you want about Barack Obama, but in temperament, word and deed he has been in every conceivable way, the opposite of Reverend Wright. My argument was that Wright's views and Obama's relationship to him simply weren't at all predictive of how Obama would govern or fundamentally revealing about the kind of president he would make. That view has been entirely vindicated, right?

-c

 
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