THE GROFF/ELLISON POLITICAL REPORT

Finally, a reason not to vote for the Black candidate

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on May 4, 2008

SUNDAY, May 4, 2008 – Fundamentally, the Rev. Wright controversy, as its been conveyed by the media, is really a case study into journalistic standards and bias in the newsroom. Not to say that the unusual and unprecedented focus on Rev. Wright is by itself “racism” – we don’t think it is. But, the fact that it has risen to such prominence as a core matter or event in this Presidential race is not as problematic for Sen. Obama as it is for the larger electorate.

However, a critical question hasn’t been posed during the course of this controversy: has there ever been a moment in Presidential election history where the fate of a candidate has been so inextricably linked to a controversial figure? Some may argue of course – Jennifer Flowers and Bill Clinton in 1992; Donna Rice and Gary Hart in 1988. But, neither were “controversial” nor did they solicit any controversy – they were products of direct private encounters with the candidates that became unexpectedly public.

There’s definitely a double-standard at work in this sense, particularly when examining the scope of influence that White religious figures have had on the Republican party and its Presidents. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne touches on this recently:

Do white right-wing preachers have it easier than black left-wing preachers? Is there a double standard?

In light of this racial gap, it’s worth pondering why white, right-wing preachers who make ridiculous and sometimes shameful statements usually emerge with their influence intact.

The catalogue goes back to Bailey Smith, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Speaking at a 1980 religious convention that was also addressed by Ronald Reagan, Smith declared that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”

Reagan later asserted that he thought Jewish prayers were answered, but he was less than definitive. “Everyone can make his own interpretation of the Bible,” the Gipper said, “and many individuals have been making differing interpretations for a long time.”

Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Jerry Falwell, appearing on Pat Robertson‘s “700 Club,” declared: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’ ”

The Rev. William Danaher, a professor at the General Theological Seminary here, argued that left-wing preachers who are black draw more fire because their critique of American society tends to be more fundamental.

“The left black preacher is challenging the social structures that everyone lives in,” Danaher said. “The white preachers on the right don’t challenge these structures. Instead, they talk about issues of personal morality and individual behavior.”

In this case, Obama doesn’t deny the link with the controversial figure – but, he’s obviously reached a point where he definitely has to sever it in the political sense. But, the answer to the question above is “no.” No previous instance that we’ve found. This is, indeed, unprecedented. So, we throw it out there to be challenged and spark some discussion.

So, what’s the deal? There are a few plausible theories surrounding media fascination with the Wright story. 1) Sensationalistic headline grabbing compensates for lack of creative skill, reporting and editing when it comes to a focus on policy issues. Simply put: water cooler banter is more exciting and easier to unravel than talks at the kitchen table or lectures in the college hall. Yale Law professor and novelist Stephen L. Carter reveals this in a recent column:

A s a novelist, I am jealous of the present national moment. I’d love to have invented it — what author of thrillers wouldn’t? The fate of the nation is at stake. Powerful characters vie for the chance to save it, and each one’s supporters contend, loudly, that the others are being manipulated by the malevolent forces that secretly run Washington. No albino monks or evil wizards — not yet — but the plot is still chock-full of unexpected twists and turns, cliffhangers, even car chases (well, chases by journalists, which can be equally harrowing).

But, we didn’t know journalists were supposed to write thrillers. We thought they had an obligation (dictated by ethical standards) to report on the truth and present information in such a way that informed and led to responsible decisions impacting the masses.

2) That said, there’s something else not right about this. Recent polls suggest quite a number (perhaps as high as 15 percent) of White voters who are making selections based on race. They’re not comfortable with voting for an African American President (interesting how Black people should be comfortable with voting for a White male Presidential candidate all the time, but White people aren’t expected to return the favor, so to speak. Just a thought). That’s a rather discomforting piece of information on more than the electorate: it says that society hasn’t gotten past its own racism, at least not in such a way that we’d like.

The interesting thing is that most African Americans knew this all along. Many White Americans are in a constant state of denial about it. That includes the media. Fuller acknowledgment of a White “reticence factor” for a Black Presidential candidate simply because he’s “Black” admits an ugly truth that White reporters in the newsroom are afraid to entertain. Of course, not all White voters have the reticence bug, but we’re finding enough have it (including those who anonymously and bold face lie to pollsters) to represent nasty facts about our social fabric that we can’t seem to shake.

So here it is: it’s a strong argument that the news worthiness of the Wright story seems a bit manufactured. Wright doesn’t seem to care that he’s playing into that so long as he gets a legacy nest egg, a pulpit and a book deal. For all his talk of “Black liberation theology” and the independent voice of the “Black church,” he seems awfully chained by the media circus. You can’t be liberated while giving in to the lure of the manufactured rush of the moment and the fateful chance that out of the thousands of Black preachers who make all sorts of raw assertions on any given Sunday, you get picked out of the bunch by sole virtue of your association with a major Presidential candidate.

There is much convenience for the White-dominated media to blow the spot of this story. It sets it up: there is no fault in the reticence of White voters, nor does their swing-vote distaste for the notion of a “Black” President contribute to Sen. Obama’s ultimate downfall. So, blame it on the “Black” Presidential candidate. It was his fault after all if he doesn’t make it. “We had nothing to do with it.” In that sense, Wright is the great Black excuse, an opening for many White voters to finally have a reason – besides the color of his skin – not to vote for the Black candidate.

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