I don’t agree with columnist Richard Cohen very often, but in this case he’s hard to argue with.
Barack Obama is a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama’s spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright’s daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said “truly epitomized greatness.” That man is Louis Farrakhan.
Maybe for Wright and some others, Farrakhan “epitomized greatness.” For most Americans, though, Farrakhan epitomizes racism, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism. Over the years, he has compiled an awesome record of offensive statements, even denigrating the Holocaust by falsely attributing it to Jewish cooperation with Hitler — “They helped him get the Third Reich on the road.” His history is a rancid stew of lies.
Cohen goes on to build the case against Farrakhan, though he leaves out the Nation of Islam’s leader’s exploits in foreign policy. Farrakhan met with Libyan strongman Muammar Ghaddafi during the US-Libya warm war of the 1980s. Farrakhan has also repeatedly denounced the US as evil and issued a divine death sentence on the country. Farrakhan has also lauded Barack Obama’s candidacy for president. Farrakhan is one of the country’s most bizarre, most repulsive, most openly racist, most offensive public figures. Yet Obama’s minister lauded Farrakhan with an award for epitomizing “greatness.” What’s doubly strange about the Farrakhan award is that Obama’s is a Christian church. Why would a Christian church magazine laud a racist radical Muslim? It’s impossible to get past concluding that it did so because, while it disagrees with Farrakhan on religious matters, it agrees with him on political and racial matters and those agreements trump the religious disagreement.
Cohen argues that Obama hasn’t shown any evidence that he agrees with Wright’s views on Farrakhan and that’s true, but Obama has credited Rev. Wright as his mentor. Obama has also said that he and Wright disagree on some matters. Obama owes it to the country to clearly spell out whether and why he disagrees with Rev. Wright on Farrakhan. Doing so or not doing so will tell us much about the man Barack Obama and whether he is really as post-racial a figure as he claims to be. If Obama really is the “new Bill Clinton,” this is his Sister Souljah moment.
Update: Via the Volokh Conspiracy, here’s the Trumpeteer Awards Gala video honoring Farrakhan.
“When Minister Louis Farrakhan speaks, America listens…For his commitment to truth, education and leadership, we honor Minister Louis Farrakhan with the Rev. Jeremiah W. Wright Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award.”
“Truth?” Like that story about being taken up into a spaceship? I have to say, if my church chose to honor such a figure, I would first lead a charge to fire the pastor and if that failed I would look for a new church.
Update: Andrew Sullivan misses the point here. He says:
No one – no one – could read Obama’s books or examine his career and believe he is anything but the polar opposite of Farrakhan. But that’s not enough for Cohen.
There are the things a man says and then there are the things a man does. Obama says and writes lots of uplifting things. But attending a church pastored by a man with views that Sullivan characterizes as “eccentric” says quite a lot about Obama too. Calling that pastor a mentor and titling one of his books after a Wright sermon as Obama has done says quite a lot as well. That that pastor honors the likes of Farrakhan says quite a lot as well, and silence about that honor will say even more. If the person at the center of this were anyone but one of Sullivan’s preferred candidates, he would see this issue for what it is: A legitimate test of Barack Obama the man, as opposed to Barack Obama the gifted orator.
Update: Via Ben Smith.
I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decisions with which I agree.