Obama Joined Wright's Church As a Political Maneuver?
One reason why many liberals think the Jeremiah Wright issue is a distraction is their belief that Obama's reverence for Wright is limited, a mere vestige of a past strategy. They assume it's largely political gamesmanship. Joining Wright's church was a way to avoid being charged as too "white" and a way to build a political base. U.S. News & World Report political writer Kenneth T. Walsh certainly forwarded this theory in a story on how Obama learned from "Chicago's Presidential Classroom":
Obama also saw firsthand the central role that African-American churches played in the black community, providing solace, pride, and the motivation to persevere against adversity. He got to know Wright, the bombastic and charismatic pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ—whose angry sermons, widely perceived as anti-American and antiwhite, got Obama's presidential campaign into deep trouble a few weeks ago.
Political base. But there was personal motivation, too. Despite having little previous interest in religion, Obama joined Wright's growing church in part to deepen what one friend called "a whole web of relationships" in the community that gave him a strong political base and a well-connected mentor. At one point, Wright warned Obama that the ministers and other leaders in Chicago could be parochial and cynical, which would make Obama's job of organizing much harder. Obama soon learned this in a very personal way when one minister derided him at a public meeting for being a pawn of Chicago's whites because he tried to work with the Establishment.
Wright, who retired earlier this year, belonged to a gospel-shouting tradition in many black churches of "signifying"—connecting with parishioners by linking religion to contemporary life and politics. He was dramatic and topical in part to attract young people to his version of the Christian tradition rather than Islam, which also had appeal to young blacks, to some degree because of charismatic leaders such as Farrakhan. Obama says he recognizes all this, and while he has condemned what Wright said, he refused to "disown" him and his good works in the community. This is seen by Obama confidants as an example of the loyalty so prized in Chicago politics. "He feels that we need to accept people with their imperfections," says a friend. "You don't disown them. It's very much a part of his message." Adds Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, a supporter: "Barack will not demonize. He won't throw somebody under the bus."
This utterly ignores how most of Obama's critics thought he defended Wright by throwing his white grandmother "under the bus" as a racist.