Jeremiah Wright and the Democrats
Richard W. Crockett
Lanny Davis, a Clinton operative, appeared on CNN’s Larry King live Monday night and tried his best to link the “wayward” Reverend Jeremiah Wright to Senator Barak Obama’s bid for the presidency. He repeatedly expressed his disappointment that Obama had not more forcefully repudiated the minister. Wright is, of course, as everybody in the country knows by now, Obama’s former pastor at a Chicago Church of Christ congregation. This is a Christian church. (This is going on by the way while others are trying to tear down Obama by making him out to be a Muslim.) Why do political campaigns ask their opponents to repudiate this or that person for remarks they made or views they hold? Because it is understood that the act of repudiation does more than simply isolate the controversial associate; it potentially alienates other voters as well. For an opposing campaign or a swift boat operation, the sequence involves first making the association by declaring it to be so, and then requiring the targeted person to repudiate the contagious associate. Failure to do so is “guilt by association,” a practice widely denounced by liberals during the McCarthy era of the 1950’s. CNN, itself, has gone out of its way to make the connection between Obama and Wright, “swift boat television.” It gave the Chicago minister complete coverage of his presentation before the national Press Club on Monday, which lasted at least an hour. I am not aware that CNN has given an equal amount of time to either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton at a single time. CNN followed this presentation with back-to-back replays of snippets of the Reverend’s most vulnerable remarks all day long and especially those that could be made to appear most controversial by truncating them. It then devoted entire segments of programming to the pumped up controversy on Larry King and Anderson Cooper’s tabloid “news” and interview programs. The temptation for the Clinton campaign is irresistible right before the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. If they can just take advantage of this and bring Obama down a notch, then Hillary can win the nomination and then the Presidency. But not so fast Senator Clinton. It may not work out that way. These tactics can be characterized as a “campaign of doubt.” A campaign of doubt tries to create “doubt” about Obama among the general public, but such a tactic could backfire against Clinton in the general election because it may be offensive to Obama’s most loyal supporters, and its affects cannot be easily undone. Also the tactic makes use of “wedge issues,” aimed at driving a wedge between Obama and white voters. But the tactic may end up driving a wedge between any Democratic candidate and Black voters. These tactics will appear to many voters, especially African Americans, as a violation of the rules of the game, the very definition of rancorous conflict. Ironically it has the potential making Jeremiah Wrights proclamations appear prophetic and his liberation theology appear profound. It does so because it proclaims one part of the aspiration of Black America as an illegitimate thing for a people to ask for, especially when the thing in question is the possibility of the first elected African American president. And it effectively ends the reign of Bill Clinton, as he liked to say, as “the first Black American President.”
With the appearance of stealing the Democratic nomination through tearing down Barak Obama with a time worn technique of “guilt by association,” associating Jeremiah Wright’s strident opinions with Barak Obama, the Clinton campaign will have alienated African American voters. This is clumsily playing the race card against a black candidate who, himself, tried to downplay race and unify American voters. Moreover, Senator Clinton may be required to repudiate Reverend Jeremiah Wright by John McCain in the general election, if the Clinton campaign has not already given the appearance of having done so, should Senator Clinton happen to win the Democratic party nomination, even if by exploiting the Wright controversy. All McCain has to do is repeatedly ask, and if he is persistent enough, and Senator Clinton refuses in order to re-acquire black support, Senator Clinton will also be linked to his so-called controversial positions. Why would McCain do this? As a tactic, nothing more. And if Senator Clinton’s operatives think that you can repudiate Wright’s views without further opening a wound that estranges African American voters from the Democratic Party for years to come, they have demonstrated incredible short sightedness. But then, very bright people frequently have blind spots—Bill did.
If it appears that the party nomination went to any candidate by a violation of the “rules of the game,” that the nomination appears to have been stolen, or obtained by illegitimate means, it could lead to rancorous conflict not merely within our party, but within the country. That divide would be between black and white voters. The party’s nomination would be of little use to Senator Clinton, or any other Democrat, in this election, and moreover, that wound would not be healed for any Democrat, especially Clinton four years from now. And alas, America would be consigned to a continued reign of corporate elites and vested interest politics, sending America, including poor working class Republicans and Black Americans, spiraling downward into the political abyss.