The Wright/Obama Controversy: Perspectives from Houston Baker and Todd Gitlin

In a very interesting post yesterday, Salon asked a panel of political and cultural experts, including Houston Baker and Todd Gitlin, to weigh in on the debates surrounding Rev. Wright’s remarks and what Obama should respond.

Todd Gitlin defended Obama offering the following advice:

“Obama should say that he no more associates himself with Wright’s remarks than John McCain (by his own say-so) agrees with John Hagee about Satanic Catholics or righteous Armageddon. He should remind his interlocutors that McCain went looking for Hagee’s endorsement while he, Obama, did not do the same with Wright. He should also repeat that he’s running for president, and that therefore he wants to talk about the awful Iraq war, the awful economy, the awful Bush years and the danger of extending them with McCain. He should say all this with a smile and his customary grace.”

Offering a different and more critical (of Obama) perspective, Houston Baker, writes:

Sen. Obama was concise enough about Wright when the problem first arose: “Get off the bus, Gus!” However, not long after—and, to my best knowledge, after calls from African-American pastors across America—Obama piously said he had often been in Trinity’s congregation when Rev. Wright verbally assaulted the United States under the guise of black “liberation theology.” Yet, he still claimed he found his pastor’s more militant views unacceptable, wished to distance himself from them. Then, in political footwork faster than Ali’s jabs, he said he could not disavow his intimate, familiar connection with Rev. Wright. It was him throwing Wright under the tires again. Sen. Obama’s “race speech” at the National Constitution Center, draped in American flags, was reminiscent of the Parthenon concluding scene of Robert Altman’s “Nashville”: a bizarre moment of mimicry, aping Martin Luther King Jr., while even further distancing himself from the real, economic, religious and political issues so courageously articulated by King from a Birmingham jail. In brief, Obama’s speech was a pandering disaster that threw, once again, his pastor under the bus…. There is now very little of a corrective nature that the racially elusive senator from Illinois can say to get rid of his pastor.

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