Monday, May 05, 2008
Among other exciting things I have done, I was once the Gentile general counsel of a shomer shabbos company owned and managed by Orthodox Jews. It is the only time in my life when I have been an ethnic minority on the job.
Anyway, I learned a lot about Christianity during those years. Once, an Orthodox professor of mathematics asked me whether I went to church, and I said something grumpy along the lines of "when my wife asks me to." His reply startled me: "Ah, yes, I understand that in many Christian sects the woman is the keeper of the spiritual flame." And he was right.
With that in mind, a couple of months ago I speculated that Barack Obama might have attended Jeremiah Wright's church because Michelle wanted to go there. Indeed, I have always thought this was Barack's most probable motive, however politically inconvenient it is to admit now. After all, it would not do to confess that he went to that church because his wife wanted him to, even if some large percentage of the men in church on Sunday mornings feel the same way. Americans want their presidents to have genuine faith.
I had not seen this argument made elsewhere (although I would be amazed if it had not been), so I was delighted to see that no less an eminence than Christopher Hitchens has taken it up.
All right, then, how is it that the loathsome Wright married him, baptized his children, and received donations from him? Could it possibly have anything, I wonder, to do with Mrs. Obama?
This obvious question is now becoming inescapable, and there is an inexcusable unwillingness among reporters to be the one to ask it. (One can picture Obama looking pained and sensitive and saying, "Keep my wife out of it," or words to that effect, as Clinton tried to do in 1992 when Jerry Brown and Ralph Nader quite correctly inquired about his spouse's influence.) If there is a reason why the potential nominee has been keeping what he himself now admits to be very bad company—and if the rest of his character seems to make this improbable—then either he is hiding something and/or it is legitimate to ask him about his partner.
Unlike Hitchens, who is a proselytizing atheist, I am not sure it is important (even if legitimate) to ask Barack "about his partner." It is beyond obvious at this point that if her husband is elected Michelle Obama will simply join a fairly long list of annoyingly powerful and tediously opinionated Democratic First Ladies. The party of Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (a very distant TigerHawk cousin), Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton provides ample precedent for Michelle Robinson Obama.
CWCID: A couple of commenters have observed that Barack was going to Wright's church before he met Michelle. I did not know that (obviously). Grasping at straws a bit to rescue the premise of the post: it remains possible that her preferences are the reason that he did not leave the church as quickly as he might have.
So as to avoid going too deeply into debating Obama's motives, he's previously said the decision to join Trinity United resulted from his personal insecurity in his racial identity. That's scary enough, coming as it is from a putative future President, given that he was a graduate of Harvard Law School when this adolescent spurt of "who-am-I"-itis hit him. Angry and resentful Michelle never entered into his public explanation.
Even supposing that's all true it could still be that his self-admitted lack of courage, to which he ascribed his unwillingness to leave the church once it's racist core became evident to him, could result from Michelle's comfort with Rev. Wright's message, even if he was uncomfortable himself. Who would want to argue with one's wife over church, after all?
Who knows what's true on this one, but Wright ultimately is just part of the overall picture. So is Ayers, his Annenberg Challenge co-chair, Woods co-board member, friend from the neighborhood and early political supporter, as is Tony Rezko, his home financier and biggest early fund raiser. Now, this stellar group of Americans is being joined by Hoffa and the Teamsters. This is turning into one heck of a complicated emotional picture as it comes more clearly into focus.
Just curious about your family connection with Mrs. Wilson. I know you have Virginia roots; is the link through the Bolling family (some members of which, if memory serves, attended the College of New Jersey during the antebellum period)?
I'm surprised you don't criticize Hitchens' citing of Michelle's undergraduate thesis, about which you once wrote, it is hardly a basis for measuring her today, almost no matter what it says. Hitchens says it is not "written in any known language" though I can plainly see it is written in English and more understandable than most sociological tracts I have read, and am left wondering what the heck that's supposed to mean.
As for Eleanor Roosevelt, she is widely regarded as Hillary's dead-ringer doppelgänger precedent for president. Like most people, I had quite a high regard for her accomplishments, until recently, after learning of her response to FDR's later infidelities, where, despite having locked him out of the bedroom for years, was shocked (just shocked) to discover he had ventured astray again (FDR had originally offered divorce but was coerced by his wealthy mother, Eleanor, as well as the political realities of the time, not to). There's a saying among family therapists that when one family member describes another as a "saint", watch out. That may have applied to the former charitable first lady and her American family as well.
In this whole petit scandal scandal, I think we should keep in mind Barack was only 26 years old when he joined the congregation at Trinity and hadn't even yet met Michelle (if the dates are correct). It wouldn't be surprising if Wright had been a little less bitter 20 years ago and that the Obamas developed a warm relationship with the other parishoners over time that would have been difficult to leave. I also have no doubt Wright was an absolutely essential political ally. This is the United States after all, where secularists above all others are excluded from public office, and Barack's few other choices in the area included such benign groups as The Nation of Islam. Yes, Wright came out of this angry millieu of Black anger, but as I've pointed out numerous times on this forum, when you actually look at what he has said (if you can actually quote it), his remarks tend not to be so alarming.
I recall being shocked in the 90s that people actually liked Hillary Clinton, so it appears to be my turn to find out there are those who don't find Michelle a winsome presence. As I've stated before, I think she could really kick Vladimir Putin's ass if given the chance. It's also worth mentioning, though Barack has not hinted at her having a significant role in the administration, that she possesses more experience with health care than Hillary did in 1992, as an actual hospital administator charged with getting poor locals to use cheaper clinics in the South Side rather than their emergency room for standard care, and that she succeeded at this central problem of the American health care crisis without resorting to government largesse. I don't think a little grudging respect would ill befit her critics...
Squealer, excellent comment. I thought that Hitchens comment about the thesis was irrelevant, and in any case disagree (as I said) with the premise that "it is important" that we "ask" Barack about Michelle. I think the thesis point, to which I still hold, is subsumed in that point.
I stand corrected on the point that Barack joined the church before meeting Michelle.
I also disagree with Hitchens regarding Michelle's thesis. It should not be a factor in the current discussion. I can only guess Hitchens does not read many academic journals in the social sciences, because Michelle's writing is not at all dense as compared to peer-reviewed journals, and is written as least as well as my (much shorter) Econ thesis four years earlier. Come on, she must have some writing skills, she got into and graduated from HLS. I can understand that Hitchens perhaps has a fundamental objection to all writing that does not flow in the same way his erudite prose streams along, and that he worships at the altar of the great 20th century British author George Orwell, who warned about the bastardization of language, but he needs to cut a 21 year old undergrad some slack.
I think it is unlikely that Obama's choices were that limited with respect to his church. I know many people, including African-Americans, who will drive many miles to attend a church they prefer, even if it is well outside of their neighborhood. I do not believe (as I have posted previously) that Obama shares his pastor's more outrageous views, but it is clear from the vidoes that many other members if TUCC do share Wright's views. How could Obama have felt comfortable in that church, not just with respect to Rev. Wright, but the other members? Is it a matter if taking the good (some spiritual growth, good political base) with the bad (false victimization)? This issue has always been about his judgment about people -- any executive has to be able to make good decisions about people. Michelle's role, if any, is secondary at best.
Having seen a bit more of Michelle on TV and photos recently, I wonder if she has ever been checked out for Marfan Syndrome, which can strike tall people with long arms and long thin fingers. My former next door neighbor nearly died of the undiagnosed cardiovascular consequences of that disease.