Stanley Kurtz wades into the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge to make the argument that the topic of Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama’s long alliance with his demagoguic pastor is a valid area of debate in this election. The CAC funded a number of black-liberation theologists while Obama ran the project, including some of the most extremist thinkers in the movement. But what Kurtz fails to acknowledge in his exhortation to John McCain to attack Obama on this part of his record is the deck that has already been stacked against him:
It looks like Jeremiah Wright was just the tip of the iceberg. Not only did Barack Obama savor Wright’s sermons, Obama gave legitimacy — and a whole lot of money — to education programs built around the same extremist anti-American ideology preached by Reverend Wright. And guess what? Bill Ayers is still palling around with the same bitterly anti-American Afrocentric ideologues that he and Obama were promoting a decade ago. All this is revealed by a bit of digging, combined with a careful study of documents from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the education foundation Obama and Ayers jointly led in the late 1990s.
John McCain, take note. Obama’s tie to Wright is no longer a purely personal question (if it ever was one) about one man’s choice of his pastor. The fact that Obama funded extremist Afrocentrists who shared Wright’s anti-Americanism means that this is now a matter of public policy, and therefore an entirely legitimate issue in this campaign.
In the winter of 1996, the Coalition for Improved Education in [Chicago’s] South Shore (CIESS) announced that it had received a $200,000 grant from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. That made CIESS an “external partner,” i.e. a community organization linked to a network of schools within the Chicago public system. This network, named the “South Shore African Village Collaborative” was thoroughly “Afrocentric” in orientation. CIESS’s job was to use a combination of teacher-training, curriculum advice, and community involvement to improve academic performance in the schools it worked with. CIESS would continue to receive large Annenberg grants throughout the 1990s.
The South Shore African Village Collaborative (SSAVC) was very much a part of the Afrocentric “rites of passage movement,” a fringe education crusade of the 1990s. SSAVC schools featured “African-Centered” curricula built around “rites of passage” ceremonies inspired by the puberty rites found in many African societies. In and of themselves, these ceremonies were harmless. Yet the philosophy that accompanied them was not. On the contrary, it was a carbon-copy of Jeremiah Wright’s worldview.
The first thing to note here is that Obama presents his political hopes for the black community as a third way between two inadequate alternatives. First, Obama rejects, “the unrealistic politics of integrationist assimilation — which helps a few upwardly mobile blacks to ‘move up, get rich, and move out. . . . ’ ” This statement might surprise many Obama supporters, who seem to think of him as the epitome of integrationism. Yet Obama’s repudiation of integrationist upward mobility is fully consistent with his career as a community organizer, his general sympathy for leftist critics of the American “system,” and of course his membership at Trinity. Obama, we are told, “quickly learned that integration was a one-way street, with blacks expected to assimilate into a white world that never gave ground.” Compare these statements by Obama with some of the remarks in Jeremiah Wright’s Trumpet, and the resemblance is clear.
Having disposed of assimilation, Obama goes on to criticize “the politics of black rage and black nationalism” — although less on substance than on tactics. Obama upbraids the politics of black power for lacking a practical strategy. Instead of diffusing black rage by diverting it to the traditional American path of assimilation and middle-class achievement, Obama wants to capture the intensity of black anger and use it to power an effective political organization. Obama says, “he’s tired of seeing the moral fervor of black folks whipped up — at the speaker’s rostrum and from the pulpit — and then allowed to dissipate because there’s no agenda, no concrete program for change.” The problem is not fiery rhetoric from the pulpit, but merely the wasted anger it so usefully stirs.
It’s also consonant with Obama’s partnership with William Ayers. Remember that Ayers was a “community organizer”, too. He organized the SDS and later the Weather Underground to impose social change on America, explicitly based on race policies. Ayers wanted (and still wants) to channel rage into action in overthrowing the capitalist system that oppresses people, or at least does in Ayers’ opinion. What Ayers couldn’t achieve through elections or bombings, he attempted to do through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge …. and managed to fail there as well.
All of this is perfectly legitimate for public debate. Obama ran the CAC while a state Senator, and his efforts on educational reform are part of his record and germane to his potential policies as President. Obama sent money to some very radical people as CEO of the CAC.
In that sense, though, one doesn’t need Jeremiah Wright to make the argument. Instead of mentioning Wright, why not just stick with the CAC and its funding of radicals like Asa Hilliard and Jacob Carruthers? Why not stick with William Ayers? It would be better to stick with Obama’s record in public service than to hit him on his (mostly) private church membership. If Kurtz extracted Wright from his essay today, he would still have a powerful argument painting Obama as a politician sympathetic to radicals, without the extra baggage of debating Obama’s religious preferences.
Wright may help paint a better picture, but it brings a lot of baggage — and most people have already learned of Wright’s rantings and calculated them into their evaluation of Obama. McCain would do better to focus on those parts of Obama’s public record that voters have not yet learned in order to complete the portrait of a Leftist ideologue walking in moderate clothing.