Democratic presidential front-runner Obama survived a malicious viral e-mail campaign that he was a Muslim. But can the populist candidacy of the Illinois senator survive the truthful revelations about his 20-year relationship with his spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, the "black separatist" Christian pastor?
The two men were and are tight -- very tight.
It was Wright's charismatic "in-your-face" African American activism that first brought the unaffiliated, young 20-something Chicago neighborhood organizer, Obama, into the Trinity Church as a practicing Christian in the '80s. Obama became a regular attendee and took Wright's inspiration with him when away from Chicago. While at Harvard studying law, Obama morally tutored himself with tapes of Wright's fiery lectures.
Wright was a moving force in Obama's family as well. Wright married Obama to his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two children. The pastor's provocative sermon, "The Audacity of Hope," gave Obama the title for his best-selling book of the same name.
Obama even huddled with his pastor for spiritual guidance just before announcing his presidential bid. Wright was given a prominent advisory role in the campaign. Wright is more than an arms-length acquaintance. He is precisely the mentor and close personal adviser Obama has long declared him to be.
Wright asserts, "When the black radical liberals want support, they come to the black church because they know we have the numbers. We pack the buses. Fifty buses with 50 people. For example, the black church sent hundreds of men to the Million Man March."
Whether voters are satisfied with Obama's moves to distance himself or condemn the recently broadcast bigotry of Wright, the real question is this: How did a man described by many as a leading anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-white agitator become Obama's closest mentor for two decades?
Exactly what is the objectionable conduct of Wright?
To begin, Wright is a close confidant and supporter of Louis Farrakhan. The leader of the Nation of Islam has called Jews "bloodsuckers" who practice a "gutter religion."
Wright was among those deeply affected in the early '80s by Farrakhan's South Side Chicago activism. In 1984, Wright was one of the inner circle that traveled with Farrakhan to visit Libyan strongman Col. Muammar Qadhfi. The ostentatious Farrakhan junket came at a time when Qadhfi had been identified as the world's chief financier of international terrorism, including the Black September group behind the Munich Olympics massacre.
By the time Wright and Farrakhan visited, Libyan oil imports had been banned, and America was trying to topple what it called a "rogue regime." In the several years after that, Farrakhan was pro-active for Qadhfi, even as Libya was internationally isolated for suspected involvement in numerous terror plots, including the explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Farrakhan's and Wright's 1984 visit and subsequent support was done precisely to openly ally themselves with a declared enemy of the United States. Why? Because these two American men of the clergy -- Farrakhan and Wright -- are avowed enemies of the United States.
The Farrakhan-Wright connection is no distant matter of the turbulent '80s. Farrakhan, Wright and the church have remained in close contact until this very day. As recently as December 2007, the church's publication bestowed upon Farrakhan its highest honor, the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Trumpeter Award for Lifetime Achievement.
An interview with Farrakhan in the church magazine concludes with the words, "He truly epitomizes greatness." Wright himself described Farrakhan in that article as "a 20th and 21st century giant."
Wright is the CEO of the church publication, which is said to reach 200,000 readers across the nation. Members of Wright's family act as publisher and editor. As recently as this Palm Sunday, March 16, the church listed Farrakhan on its prayer list in the weekend handout at church services.
In the Farrakhan mold, Wright is a firebrand anti-American, anti-white, anti-Zionist preacher. His pulpit statements, by now widely broadcast on cable TV and across the Internet, have histrionically asked followers to chant not "God bless America" but "God damn America," to denounce Israel and Zionism for "state terrorism," to hold Washington responsible for creating the HIV/AIDS virus as a weapon against black people and to recognize that America is controlled by "rich white people."
Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Wright waved his arms and almost danced, bellowing that America had brought the crime upon itself.
Despite his extremism, Wright is no fringe member of the African American mainstream. He is a giant in the black community.
Wright built the Trinity Church from an 87-member congregation in 1972, with a $30,000 annual budget, to a black megachurch said to boast as many as 10,000 members -- the largest in the United Church of Christ -- operating on a more than $9 million annual budget.
In 1993, Ebony Magazine listed Wright among its top 15 pastors. In March 2007, Wright was honored by a resolution of the Illinois House of Representatives.
The wide black acceptance of Wright's damning hate rhetoric points up a complete racial disconnect with white America that still lies just below the surface. Angry African American leaders such as Wright see the black church historically as a place of confrontation that still serves that role. Before the Civil War, not a few slave revolts occurred, Wright has said, after getting "worked up" in church. He adds, "The church gave us the strength to fight to end slavery."
The angry world of Wright is the embittered experience that most Americans either don't know or would rather forget. That bitter legacy includes slavery until the Civil War and Jim Crow after; segregation and social torment in the 20th century; thousands of lynchings in almost every state of the union, from Minnesota to Mississippi, continuing into the post-World War II era, and a voting rights law that did not pass until 1965.
On Chicago's South Side, where Wright and Obama knew their formative years, "block-busting" was a real estate term for fear-mongering about black's moving into the neighborhood to induce white flight. Being arrested for a DUI in Chicago was "driving under the influence," but being arrested for a DWB was "driving while black." The black family on Chicago's South Side was a shattered concept subjected to inferior schooling, inferior health care and often abysmal living conditions.Yet, the black church is vastly more than a caldron of inspiration via rage. It is also a place of exhilaration for a better way, a new way. Obama says he represents that new way; he is the apostle of "change" and a torch of the new politics. Yet, revelations about his infusion with Wright represent his tie not to the new century but to the decades-old politics of bitterness, rage and hate.
In a political defense that now ranks with Bill Clinton's assertion that he "never inhaled" and "never had sex with that woman," Barack claims he was never in the pews when Wright expressed his hateful sermons.
Obama's defense that he did not know of Wright's bigotry is opposed by record itself. More than a year ago, Obama suddenly uninvited Wright to offer the invocation at a major campaign event.
Wright told The New York Times in March 2007, "Fifteen minutes before Shabbos, I get a call from Barack.... One of his members had talked him into uninviting me." Wright pointedly chose the Yiddish term Shabbos to refer to the Friday night time.
Wright told The Times, "When his enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell." He added, that Obama advised, "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public."
For Obama, it seems like a lose-lose situation. Either he has repeatedly lied to the nation about his knowledge of Wright's bigotry, or for 20 years, he was ignorant of his own mentor's views being broadcast worldwide every Sunday.
The Jewish community has long self-censored on Obama's hate links. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) even recently issued a press release that it was satisfied that Obama had disavowed Wright's race hatred and anti-Zionist fervor.
But now, in a weekend interview, ADL national director Abraham Foxman said his view is different.
"More is now known," Foxman said. "It is not a casual, one-way way relationship with pastor Wright."
Foxman has joined the growing chorus of disbelief about Obama's ignorance: "It is very difficult to believe that throughout these years, Obama has been unaware of the conspiracy, bigotry and anti-Zionist views."
While most in America are worried about playing a race card, Obama has shown he is still carrying around a full deck.
Edwin Black on assignment for the Washington Post was the first Jewish journalist to interview Louis Farrakhan as part of his investigation of the Nation of Islam. This article is adapted from a longer piece from The Cutting Edge News at www.thecuttingedgenews.com.