It’s election time and that means Reverend Jeremiah Wright is back on the scene. In 2008, the retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago caused a maelstrom of controversy for then Senator Barack Obama as he fought Hillary Clinton in a furious battle for the Democratic nomination for president. Now, after being “betrayed” by his long-time church member and friend, Wright decided to confide in Edward Klein, author of the unauthorized Obama biography, “The Amateur,” that the Obama camp attempted to bribe him out of the pulpit via email.
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“Who sent the e-mail?” [Klein] asked Wright.
“It was from one of Barack’s closest friends.”
“He offered you money?”
“Not directly,” Wright said. “He sent the offer to one of the members of the church, who sent it to me.”
“How much money did he offer you?”
“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” Wright said.
“Did Obama himself ever make an effort to see you?”
“Yes,” Wright said. “Barack said he wanted to meet me in secret, in a secure place. And I said, ‘You’re used to coming to my home, you’ve been here countless times, so what’s wrong with coming to my home?’ So we met in the living room of the parsonage of Trinity United Church of Christ, at South Pleasant Avenue right off 95th Street, just Barack and me. I don’t know if he had a wire on him. His security was outside somewhere.
“And one of the first things Barack said was, ‘I really wish you wouldn’t do any more public speaking until after the November election.’ He knew I had some speaking engagements lined up, and he said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t speak. It’s gonna hurt the campaign if you do that.’
“And what did you say?” I asked. “I said, ‘I don’t see it that way. And anyway, how am I supposed to support my family?’ And he said, ‘Well, I wish you wouldn’t speak in public. The press is gonna eat you alive.’
“Barack said, ‘I’m sorry you don’t see it the way I do. Do you know what your problem is?’ And I said, ‘No, what’s my problem?’ And he said, ‘You have to tell the truth.’ I said, ‘That’s a good problem to have. That’s a good problem for all preachers to have. That’s why I could never be a politician.’
“And he said, ‘It’s going to get worse if you go out there and speak. It’s really going to get worse.’
“And he was so right.”
Two of Wright’s more controversial sermons, at least by GOP standards, were at the center of the storm. “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall” delivered on September 16, 2001″ called the United States out for it’s hypocrisy when retaliating for the World Track Center attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. The unrepentant Wright held no punches:
“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye… and now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Then, in “Confusing God and Government,” delivered on April 13, 2003, Wright exposed the United States government for its role in the horrific Tuskegee experiment and it’s systemic racism against people of African descent in the nation:
“The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis. Governments lie. The government lied about bombing Cambodia and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, ‘Let me make myself perfectly clear…’ Governments lie. The government lied about the drugs for arms Contra scheme orchestrated by Oliver North, and then the government pardoned all the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the government. Governments lie…. The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie. The government lied about a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and a connection between 9.11.01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie.
“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains, the government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton field, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that’s in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.”
And Republicans went wild.
Voicing their concern that Obama was “anti-American,” many conservatives (and Hillary Clinton) wondered aloud that some of Wright’s hate had to have rubbed off on Obama; he had, after all, “sat in his church for 20 years.”
Before caving to the conflict and disowning his “spiritual advisor” in May of 2008 — the man who penned the sermon “The Audacity of Hope,” on which Obama based his electric 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that catapulted him into America’s conscious — Obama delivered his “A More Perfect Union” speech on March 18, 2008 in Philadelphia, PA, in hopes of taking control once again of the political momentum.
“I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community,” said Obama. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”
But when Wright refused to go away, making more inflammatory statements as Obama was locked in the fight of his political career, the candidate made the choice to cut ties, claiming to be “saddened” and “outraged” by Wright’s remarks.
I find it no small coincidence that Wright has returned just in time for Obama’s re-election. He has cast himself as the proverbial friend scorned and proven that every ounce of political support that he threw behind Obama was based on friendship not politics. All the speeches and sermons, evoking racial fidelity and identification to shore up Obama’s support within the church, all the statements saying that Obama was the right choice for America, it all boiled down to a broken friendship.
With shades of Dr. Cornel West evident in his tone — a man whom I respect greatly, but who diminished his credibility as it pertains to Obama criticism when he complained that “the guy who picks up [his] bags from the hotel had a ticket to the inauguration” and he did not — it appears Rev. Wright is back with a agenda.
Obama did throw away their friendship for political ambition, and I personally find that reprehensible, but just as the church has no place in state policy, neither do personal vendettas have a place in political elections. There are a plethora of issues that one could challenge President Obama on, but to become entangled in a “you took your ball and went home, so now I’m tattling” dialogue is absolutely ridiculous.
That is something one would think a man of Rev. Wright’s caliber would understand.