3/19/08 Seattle Post-Intelligencer B1
2008 WLNR 5384565
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://seattlep-i.com).
All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the Seattle
March 19, 2008
WILL RACE BE USED TO HIJACK THE 2008 ELECTION?
JOEL CONNELLY P-I columnist
OUT OF THE 207,000 minutes that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached
while building Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a handful of
fiery sound bites have fueled a media frenzy and been used to inject
race into the center of our 2008 presidential race.
Wright's words have been dubbed "hate speech" by pundits and
preachers of the political right, themselves masters at twisting the
truth to arouse resentment.
In a Philadelphia speech Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama tried to
a) put some distance between himself and his former pastor's rhetoric,
b) hold onto his self-respect while c) seeking to honestly evaluate the
roots of racial anger in America.
Obama is relentlessly upbeat, arguing that the country can heal its
divisions, restore its ability to tackle problems together and
marginalize those whose business it has been to deepen those divisions.
"The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he
spoke about racism in our society," Obama said in his
speech. "It's that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no
progress has been made; as if this country is still irrevocably bound to
a tragic past.
"But what we know - what we have seen - is that America can change.
That is (the) true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved
gives us hope - the audacity of hope - for what we can and must achieve
Before getting too comfortable with Obama's vision, I decided to read
those words to the Rev. Samuel B. McKinney, pastor emeritus at Mount
Zion Baptist Church and a longtime friend of Wright.
"We would like to believe that," McKinney reflected. "We want to
believe that he (Obama) can lead us there. But we have not gotten there.
We have our heads in the sand if we believe otherwise."
The Right Rev. Greg Rickel, Episcopal Bishop of Olympia, noted that
the "tragic past" remains personal for many.
"We're going to bring all the baggage of our lives into the
conversation," Rickel said. "A preacher brings life experiences to the
pulpit. If we don't deepen the dialogue, and be honest with each other,
we'll never get anywhere."
McKinney noted, too, that Wright has preached from personal
We so soon forget. Not long ago, Chicago was America's most
segregated Northern city. The political machine of Mayor Richard Daley
ruled the Windy City. Black voters voted with the machine. "They asked
for nothing. Which is exactly what they got," columnist Mike Royko
Martin Luther King Jr. was bloodied by a rock when he led a 1966
open-housing march into one of Chicago's all-white bungalow
neighborhoods. A pair of teenagers held up a sign reading: "ONE WAY TO
DEAL WITH N******! EXTERMINATE!"
Or there was the experience of Chicago congressman (and onetime
Olympic sprinter) Ralph Metcalfe. He rebelled after cops manhandled a
friend while issuing a speeding ticket. Daley gave him the brushoff.
Metcalfe discovered that Chicago's finest were dumping off tickets on
In Seattle, for some years, my early-morning dog walk coincided with
when Walt Hubbard, a longtime leader of the Seattle Urban League, would
leave for work. We talked politics. Yours truly played Pollyanna,
talking about how our largely white environs had put Norm Rice and Ron
Sims in office.
Curb thy pride, Hubbard counseled.
He reminded me of the yearslong battle to pass an open housing
ordinance in Seattle. As a mainstay of the Seattle Black Catholic Lay
Caucus, he recalled frustrations in rooting out racism and getting the
church to deliver a message of empowerment.
This successful, immaculately dressed man suddenly became angry one
morning as he talked about the still-unsolved killing of Seattle Urban
League President Ed Pratt. My poodle, S'Murphy Brown, raised a paw to
his left knee as a gesture of comfort.
Anger at injustice has defined
our country's more courageous leaders.
Didn't King describe the Vietnam War as a "demonic suction tube," and
the U.S. as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today?" He
told striking Memphis garbage workers that "America is going to hell" if
it ignored economic injustice.
In Indianapolis, the night of King's assassination, Sen. Robert
Kennedy tried to deliver a message of compassion and love. Still, anger
memorably crept in.
"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with
hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white
people, I can only say that I feel in my heart the same kind of
feeling," RFK said. "I had a member of my family killed, but he was
killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort to understand, to
go beyond these rather difficult times."
Four decades later, the challenge remains. As Obama reminded us
Tuesday, the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday
He had, too, a tougher message about the debased state of our
"We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day
and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only
question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that
I somehow sympathize with his most offensive words.
"We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that
she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men
will all flock to John McCain in the election regardless of his
"We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next
election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then
another one. And then another one. And nothing will change."
And the political right will have succeeded in hijacking a
presidential election. Again.
P-I columnist Joel Connelly
can be reached at 206-448-8160
Follow politics on the P-I's blog at