The honeymoon is officially over.

Towards the beginning of the primaries, I kinda fell for Barack Obama. I feel quite a bit harder than I ever expected I’d fall for a front-runner for the Democratic nomination. My girlfriend and I were glued to the TV during the first primaries and especially on Super Tuesday, cheering every time Obama won a state. I felt hopeful, I felt energized, I felt invested. For the first time in the eight years that make up my voting life, I actually donated to the campaign of a presidential nominee. For someone who’s quite cynical about electoral politics, these were remarkable things to be experiencing.

As the campaigns continued on, I began to grew weary. The novelty and optimism began to wear off. All of the political posturing, maneuvering and bullshit started to try my patience. Obama kept doing things to remind me that he’s still a centrist Democrat and was pretty much destined to disappoint me, annoy me, or straight up piss me off. On primary nights I barely payed attention the the television reports, if I watched at all. And if I did watch, I tuned out about one minute into Barack’s speeches, which all sounded the same by now.

When the mess about Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright started up back in March, I was more upset by the media’s response and the Clinton campaign’s opportunism about it than I was about Obama’s response. I was angry that he’d be so pressed upon to disavow his connections to a man who was simply being honest and upfront about racism, his own experience and understanding of racism as a Black man living in this country. Obama’s response wasn’t the defiant, firmly anti-racist rebuttal that I would have loved to see, but I understood that he had few choices in this situation that wouldn’t just provide more cannon fodder for his critics and the Clinton campaign. I actually thought that some parts of his speech on race dealt quite deftly with both the Wright situation specifically and race and racism in general. Maybe his speech didn’t reflect my racial politics, but I understood what he was trying to say and appreciated that he dealt with it as well as he did.

But after yesterday’s press conference in which Obama completely threw Wright under the bus, I’m officially over him.

I get that Obama had few choices here. I understand that, American society being what it is, Obama would face political demolition if he didn’t disown Wright. I can see that the media has been happily fanning the flames of this controversy and that it’s miserable timing for Obama’s campaign. I know that politics is a game and Obama’s playing it as best he can.

The whole thing still leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. Especially this part:

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.

The emphasis there is mine. That might be the part that angered me the most. No, Obama, not all Americans are offended by Wright’s comments. The implication that all Americans should “rightly” be offended by his comments is, in fact, offensive.

Let’s actually take the three topics Obama references.

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS …

Why, exactly, is that such a ridiculous proposition? Let’s look at what Wright said on the topic in his speech to the National Press Club:

… based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.

I don’t firmly believe that the U.S. government invented AIDS in order to kill Black people. But I also don’t firmly disbelieve it. And if you take out the part about inventing it and limit the assertion to the government allowing the AIDS virus to run rampant amongst certain communities – gay people, people of color, and poor people primarily – then I come a lot closer to saying that it’s very, very possible, if not probable.

And why not? Why would we think the U.S. government so incapable of such a thing? Wright points out the very good example of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male, in which the U.S. Public Health Service allowed many Black men and women to suffer from syphillis with neither treatment nor knowledge of their condition. This isn’t distant history: the study began in 1932 and continued until 1972, when it was ended as a result of a leak to the press. Had that leak not had happened, who knows how long it would’ve continued. And there are other examples of such medical violence against people of color in our country’s history, from the more distant British war tactic of giving smallpox-laced blankets to Native Americans to the much more recent forced sterilizations of Native, Puerto Rican, and Black women. (Even though I’ve known of this for a while, it took a lot for me not to cry just now when I read that “By 1968 … a campaign by private agencies and the Puerto Rican [American controlled] government resulted in the sterilization of one-third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age.”) Given these well-documented incidents in American history, why, exactly, is it so far-fetched that the government might have had a similar hand in steering the AIDS virus and allow it to tear through some of this nation’s most oppressed communities? And moreover, why would such a suggestion be offensive? It’s beyond me.

Let’s move on.

… when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century …

Now, I won’t argue that Farrakhan hasn’t said some thoroughly fucked up things, not only about Jewish people but also about queer people. (Though I did find some Wikipedia background on his various controversies to be far more nuanced than what I usually hear and, in some cases, quite surprising.) Again, though, when you look at what Wright actually said at the National Press Club and on the Bill Moyers show, he’s basically saying that, even though he doesn’t agree with Farrakhan on all points, he recognizes his importance or impact as a Black leader. This makes sense, and it doesn’t seem all that different than Obama’s stance on Wright just a few weeks ago.

And finally:

… when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

I’m sorry, but when you consider that more than one-hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have died since the beginning of the U.S.-led war, many directly due to the actions of the United States and its coalition, what is offensive or ridiculous about comparing this to terrorism? And what is offensive or ridiculous about pointing out that the United States should not be surprised that its long history of violence and imperialism against other nations and peoples has resulted in violence directed at the United States?

So, again, I don’t find Wright’s statements to be ridiculous or offensive. What I find ridiculous and offensive is that Obama and his campaign apparently believe that Wright should have shut up and behaved when he was being pilloried in the press. And I find it even more ridiculous and offensive that, in order to win even a shot at the presidency in this country, a Black man must disown and disparage a man he claimed was like family to him because that man was unafraid to be up front about racism in this country.

12 Responses to “The honeymoon is officially over.”

  1. 1 maggie

    Yes! the “rightly offend all Americans” part really bothers me. None of those statements are so absurd or offensive.

  2. 2 belledame222

    yeah, i kind of got over my initial enchantment a good while ago. i’m still not sorry i voted for him over HRC, and obviously hope he’d win over McCain; but apart from that, i just want this gorram election season to be OVER already, i am -trying- to not pay any attention to the circus, but it’s hard to avoid, as are the 8 BILLION emails and phone calls i get from campaign HQ (for both of them, and more besides) every damn day, and Bored. Now.

  3. 3 Lily

    I totally agree that Senator Obama should not have separated himself from Rev. Wright. He should’ve defended his pastor and his friend. However, situations change when highlighted by the national press. All the white people that have been complaining (as well as colored people, albeit less heatedly) are important to please in order for Obama to succeed in his campaign. For this reason, and for this reason only, I can forgive his betrayal, because I believe in the greater good (which is having Obama in the Oval Office rather than HC or McCain).

    P.S. I love Reverend Wright and have so far found nothing contentious about his speeches/comments. They’re all justifiable and based upon intellectual research, not crazy-talk, like the media tries to make it.

  4. 4 rabi

    I continue to be baffled by the idea that I should be offended by reverend wright. maybe I’m not paying enough attention (entirely possible — like a lot of people I am really burned out on this primary), but I haven’t heard anything from him so far that seems out of line, or even particularly surprising. plus, he’s a reverend, not a politician. why is he under any obligation to make white people feel comfortable with him? (but that only goes so far: pastor john hagee makes me want to puke.)

    what’s funny is that, aside from this, I’ve had sort of the opposite experience with obama. I started out super skeptical and kind of pissed off at everyone who seemed to be buying into his hype/hope, and, as usual, convinced that there were no mainstream candidates I could vote for in good conscience. now I’ve sort of grudgingly come to feel that I could vote for obama and actually be voting FOR him, instead of against the republican.

  5. 5 ButchFatale

    And if you take out the part about inventing it and limit the assertion to the government allowing the AIDS virus to run rampant amongst certain communities – gay people, people of color, and poor people primarily – then I come a lot closer to saying that it’s very, very possible, if not probable.

    Not just probable, definite. It wasn’t the goodness of the CDC’s heart in taking on AIDS as a public health crisis that slowed the spread in the early days, it was grass-roots education, needle distribution (despite arrests) and the disruptive actions of pissed off folks offending people who’d rather pretend they don’t exist. Just like how in a time when AIDS is still a crisis in many communities of color, federal and local governments are instituting mandatory reporting of HIV infection and abstinense only education.

    Yeah, I can’t *imagine* why folks wouldn’t trust our government.

  6. 6 Naty

    Established facts in U.S. History are so much scarier than conspiracy theories and ultimately do damage to the truth. There is a distinction between purposefully injecting a community and allowing it to destroy it (albeit small). it weaponizes those that seek to establish doubt and would ultimately create a distraction.

    I still love my Senator he did the best he could to explain the complexities of U.S. racial History within the context of his relationship with his close friend. It backfired because of a deliberate effort to keep people stupid. He had no choice but to keep it simple. I don’t think he compromised his morals..

    The scariest part of all this was how quickly Hilary turn on her base and is willing to take people of color for granted…

  7. 7 Cliff

    I agree with this post 100%. Nothing Reverend Wright said offended me. We are going to be in trouble if every issue that is considered specifically African American is dismissed as being divisive. That will make this whole thing special without any real change for the community.

  8. 8 Jack

    @belledame: Yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at – I want him to beat Clinton and McCain but am just not terribly excited anymore.

    @Lily: I definitely get what you’re saying, especially because Obama’s been subjected to an unfair double standard (see the comments about McCain and Hagee.) Maybe I should be more generous towards him and understanding that he has to play the game to stand a chance. It’s just disappointing to get your hopes whipped up about someone and then be reminded that, yes, he either has to or chooses to play that damn game (or both.)

    Speaking of Hagee: YES, rabi! Also, interesting that the pendulum swung the other way for you. It’s good to feel like you’re voting for someone instead of against the other guy. By the time Election Day rolls around I’ll probably (hopefully) feel that way about voting for Obama, too.

    @ButchFatale: Yeah, unimaginable, isn’t it? Geez.

    Naty wrote: “it weaponizes those that seek to establish doubt and would ultimately create a distraction.” I dunno. I think distractions away from the show and dance and towards the effective truths of a matter are important distractions indeed. And while yeah, there’s a difference between purposeful injections and primarily passive permission, that difference is so small as to be almost irrelevant, especially given that the means are slightly different but the ends are pretty much the same.

    Thanks for the comment, Cliff; good point about any Black issues being considered “divisive.”

  9. 9 H.T.

    Thanks for this post, Jack. One thing that surprised me was that it was “outrageous” for Wright to say that what happened to the towers was an act of vengeance – whether that stated aim is believable on its face or not (I have a hard time imagining a millionaire feeling outrage and sympathy on behalf of other countries), that’s the reason that was given for it by the perpetrators in foreign media.

  10. 10 Richard

    Thanks Jack. I’ve been over the man because I never got into him. Don’t think that either of the twin parties can answer any of our needs. I am not offended by Reverend Wright at all in fact support what he is saying. I put nothing past this government.

    ButchFatale: Right On! It was the people who slowed the spread of HIV/AIDS. I remember quite well how our Lesbian sisters worked their butts off helping out us gay men. Remember that old thing Ronald Reagan? We used to chant, “Ronald Reagan you can’t hide we charge you with genocide!”

    I too have a hard time imagining a millionaire really caring about anyone but his/her own class. They can talk a good talk. I remember Clinton how the glbt community was swooning over him. I still asked them can you say DOMA and DADT, can you say bombs away over Iraq?

    I don’t know where I will be in Nov. I like what Cynthia McKinney is saying and plan to help get her on the ballot in CT. She has some good things on her site.

  11. 11 Chakra Kahn

    “…I don’t firmly believe that the U.S. government invented AIDS in order to kill Black people…”

    hey, I agree with ya there, but I think that in reality, AIDS was used by the government as an attempt to wipe out us homos, and having it devastate the black community was an unexpected surprise for them.

    Remember, this was the REAGAN government, chock full of Dick Cheneyes and GHWBuhes. I personally do not think it too far a stretch to make the connection. Our leaders have practiced genocide, eugenics, mass forced sterilizations of ethnic women. Our leaders, on BOTH sides of the political ‘fence’ have allowed rampant corporate greed to win out over the health and safety of its people, to the extent that breast milk is now a toxic substance, and austism, cancers and ADHD are considered ‘normal’ diseases.

    Rev Wright nailed it

  12. 12 r@d@r

    i’m having flashbacks. when clinton was sworn in january of 93 i stood with a group of tearful left wing feminists who said unanimously that they felt as if they had been welcomed back in from the cold after 13 years as outsiders. it truly was a moving occasion for all of us who had lived through “morning in america”. that was a short honeymoon too, and the comedown was bitter.

    but, as despicable as many of clinton’s executive political maneuvers were, those positive feelings remain true and valid for what they were worth. every one of those women went forth energized to return to their individual and collective activisms; they may have been given some degree of false hope, perhaps sold a “bill of goods” (pun unintential but not disavowed), but the emotional shot in the arm was real and useful.

    just because the honeymoon is over doesn’t mean you can’t put that brief good feeling to use. it’s a lot like marriage – you store away those good times for a rainy day when your partner isn’t looking so good, when you wonder if maybe you made a mistake. one moment of hope keeps your head up, searching the horizon for the next one, and keeps you from just lying down and quitting. if obama becomes president – and i’d say especially if he becomes president – he’ll let us all down even worse, because it’s built in to the rotten system. but he’s created a high standard for us to hold him to, and it’s well worth keeping in mind if he ever tries to back away from the promises he has made.

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