Deconstructing Obama's lawyerly evasions on Wright
Barack Obama desperately needs to distance himself from his spiritual mentor and pastor of two decades, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. But the man who wants America to believe his promise of unspecified change adopts the carefully-parsed language of a Harvard-trained lawyer. There is a fundamental discordance in spirit between a canny, evasive lawyer inserting loopholes, and the smiling vision of unity and change you can believe in.
Here is the key paragraph of Obama's statement, bizarrely first published on the Huffington Post, a website that once featured Senator Joseph Lieberman in minstrel blackface. There are multiple evasions buried in each line, analyzed below:
"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church."
Take a close look:
"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy..."Obama avoids getting pinned down on any specific statement. As with his promise of "change", the reader or listener's imagination supplies the specifics, so Obama can be everything to everyone, no matter if the private interpretations differ. Translation: "If any words offended you, I am against them."
"...not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity..."
This leaves so many doors open for evasion. We noticed on the videotaped sermons that when Rev. Wright fires up the crowd, they jump to their feet. A Harvard-trained lawyer like Obama inserting the phrase "sat in the pews" knows exactly what he is doing. If he was on his feet applauding and shouting approval like so many other Trinity congregants, then this statement becomes true, if utterly misleading.
"...or heard him utter in private conversation."
So if his wife Michelle, or any other person (a staffer or fellow congregant, for instance) was with Obama when he heard such statements, then he didn't hear them in private conversation. Harvard-trained lawyers know that every adjective adds a condition which must be met in order to prove that a denial is false, not just misleading.
"When these statements first came to my attention..."
"Came to my attention" is a wonderful phrase. That's the sort of artistry that earns Harvard-trained lawyers their hundreds of dollars an hour rates. "Attention" requires an active psychological engagement. If Wright routinely makes such statements, Obama would pay no attention to them because they are almost boilerplate. Israeli state-sponsored terrorism? Why bother paying attention? Wright has been attacking Israel for years. God damn America? Wright has been railing against this country for years. Who pays attention to routine stuff?
"...it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign."
That would be a very good reason finally to pay attention to the routine language of his pastor. That's why Senator Obama disinvited his mentor from the launch of his presidential campaign. It might come to voters' attention the sort of man who has inspired, counseled, and mentored him for two decades.
"I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments"
John Hinderaker (also a Harvard-trained lawyer -- the good kind) of Powerline already has examined this beauty:
I'd like to see the statements Obama allegedly made denouncing Wright's comments once he says he learned of them. The statements by Obama that I'm aware of characterized Wright's comments as merely "provocative" (that, according to ABC News, was Obama's reaction to Wright's statement that the U.S. had 9/11 coming) and the kinds of things an eccentric uncle might say. That's far from a denunciation. In fact, ABC News quoted Obama as saying, "I don't think my church is actually particularly controversial." That's even further from a denunciation. And we also know that Obama placed Wright on a special committee of religious leaders supporting his candidacy after Obama became aware of at least one of Wright's statements in issue.
"But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement..."
We suppose one could say that Rev. Wright has been on the verge of retirement ever since he started preaching. If one ignores all the evasive language conditioning Obama's non-denial denial that he knew Wright thinks and feels the way the videos portray him, then one is left with the conclusion that he suddenly discovered Wright has radical views and was shocked, shocked, just about the time his presidential campaign kicked off. The day before, in fact, when he disinvited the Pastor. But the "verge of retirement" argument assumes that for twenty years Obama sat in the pew, stood in the aisles, jumped up and down and clapped to the good shepherd he chose, just like the other congregants, and it never occurred to him that Wright hates America and Israel. There's a classic Chicago expressions for this: "Yeah... right!"
"...because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community..."
He means the people yelling, clapping, jumping up, and approving of Wright as he spews hate.
"...where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized..."
Obama has preached the virtues and duties of parents to raise their children in nurturing ways. Yet he has no problem with placing his children in the pews to imbibe the anti-Americanism that his Pastor promotes. How does exposing his children to this teacher of hate square with his calls for responsible parenting?
"...I did not think it appropriate to leave the church"
People stay in churches for 20 years because they agree with the pastor's philosophy. When they disagree, they leave, as this retired pastor avers. Not only did Barack Obama stay at Pastor Wright's church, he made it his number one charity, giving over $20,000 when he was financially able.
Of course, he didn't think it was appropriate to leave.
We watched Obama interview with Major Garrett on Fox News. He said he was a frequent attendee at the church except when his kids were born, and he stayed at home for awhile. It is simply implausible statistically that he attended all the sermons with good Christian stuff and missed all the sermons with hate. That is an obvious lie. Beyond that is the idea that he did not know what was said in those sermons he missed. That is another obvious lie.
This is backtracking, and now even riskier if he can be proved to have lied about what he knew and when he knew it. Because he claims to have frequently attended Trinity, any Sunday that he was in Chicago (except when his children were born), one can reasonably assume he attended church. All that is necessary is to track down when each of Wright's outrageous statements were made, and then compare it with Obama's travel schedule. If there are multiple Sundays on which Obama was in Chicago and Wright made outrageous statements, it defies his own claim of attendance to believe Obama was at home for all of those sermons.
Obama told FOX News he wouldn't have quit Wright's congregation if the pastor's more controversial statements were isolated, but if that became "the tenor or tone on an ongoing basis of his sermons" Obama said he would have quit.
"Obviously they are ones that are from my perspective completely unacceptable and inexcusable," Obama said.
More lawyerly evasions here "tenor or tone on an ongoing basis" raises the possibility that he did hear some of the verbiage.
Here is some more backtracking: the crazy uncle comment to the Jewish group in Cleveland (transcript now available) includes one audience member reading to Obama all the inflammatory stuff Wright said. So Obama knew of all of this well before yesterday when he first chose to disassociate himself from Wright and kicked him off his religious campaign council.
Acting surprised yesterday abut the tapes is also a lie and proves only Obama's evasive, slippery character. Video is a lot more powerful than the printed word. All hail Brian Ross. Without his 3 minute segment on ABC's Good Morning America, this would all have been viewed as right wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity or "smear artist" (via The Nation) Ed Lasky going after him.
This is the best part! ABC and FNC both bought from the website of Trinity Church a video collection of the best of Pastor Wright! All this very bad stuff is what Wright and the church think the best of his work!
By issuing such lawyerly evasions and implausible claims in his statements, Barack Obama treats the American voting public as rubes who can be fooled, a jury that wants to get on with the trial and go home after a quick and painless deliberation focusing only on general impressions.
It strains credulity to believe that he never picked up a hint of Wright's vehement hatreds. We don't think he can get away with it. The American public has been schooled by Bill Clinton in the arts of lawyerly evasion on the meaning of the word "is". How ironic that his rival's husband's use of the tool makes it harder for Obama to re-use it.
Contrast Senator Obama's pattern of behavior and evasions with McCain's straight talk express perspective. Did Obama think he quelled controversy over Rezko when he stalked out of a news conference when he had let reporters ask their quote of "like 8 questions". How does that square with his calls for transparency and honesty in government?
Barack Obama is not a new type of politician; he is a very old type -- a blusterer who lived before the age of google and DVDs and YoutTube, when politicians could blithely make statements and promises that bear no relation to previous promises and statements. Veracity can be checked and monitored.
Senator Obama reveals a type of arrogance and smugness in thinking and a low regard for the people and their right to know. Contrary to his evident beliefs, Americans are not mostly dopes.
Update: Rich Lowry checks Obama's first autobiographical (and admittedly fictionalized) book, 1995's (thirteen years ago!) Dreams from My Father, and discovers Obama certainly did know and write about some of Wright's extreme views.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama preaches on the campaign trail that
America needs a new consensus based on faith and bipartisanship, yet he
continues to attend a controversial Chicago church whose pastor routinely refers
to "white arrogance" and "the United States of White America."
In fact, Obama was in attendance at the church when these statements were made on July 22.
. . . Wright's strong sentiments were echoed in the Sunday morning service attended by NewsMax.
Wright laced into America's establishment, blaming the "white arrogance" of
America's Caucasian majority for the woes of the world, especially the
oppression suffered by blacks. To underscore the point he refers to the country
as the "United States of White America." Many in the congregation, including
Obama, nodded in apparent agreement as these statements were made. [Emphasis added]
The sermon also addressed the Iraq war, a frequent area of Wright's
fulminations. "Young African-American men," Wright thundered, were "dying
for nothing." The "illegal war," he shouted, was "based on Bush's lies" and is
being "fought for oil money."
In a sermon filled with profanity, Wright also blamed the war on "Bush
administration bulls--t." Those are the types of statements that have led to
MSNBC's Tucker Carlson describing Wright as "a full-blown hater."