Obama: The Other White Meat

Maui Time | May 7, 2008
I argue with my friends. Some of them thought invading Iraq was a good idea. Almost all believed that Afghanistan was "the good war," the one from which Iraq distracted us. (They're starting to come around.) A few are even bigots. We disagree about these issues, often vehemently. But we're still friends. I would never diss a friend in public (or, in politicalese, "distance myself"). Even a former friend deserves respect.

Crisis reveals character. In politics, it reveals judgment.

Barack "Uniter Not Divider, This Time We Really Mean It" Obama was praised for dumping ("distancing himself from") Reverend Jeremiah Wright. ("What Barack Obama did was a profile in courage," said the Reverend Al Sharpton.) But the McCain campaign's silence indicates that it is quietly editing its fall attack ads. Obama's apology, they'll say, came too little, too late. Obama has fallen for one of the hoariest old tricks in the political playbook: guilt by association.

Republicans are smart. They close ranks behind a senator caught trolling for gay sex in an airport restroom, ignoring the homophobic platform of their own party. Mr. Wide Stance keeps his job; they keep his vote. In contrast, when New York's governor hooks up with a prostitute, the Dems--whose politics, after all, are sex-positive--sell one of their brightest lights down the river.

You'd think Democrats would have learned a big lesson in 1972. It seems quaint in this age of Zoloft, but when it came out that vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton had been treated for depression (with electroshock treatment, standard care at the time), the media went nuts. If George McGovern had stood by his running mate, the issue would soon have died. There were, after all, plenty of other stories to talk about--say, Vietnam and Watergate. But McGovern got spooked. He dumped Eagleton. Voters asked themselves: If a guy throws his own running mate under the bus, how will he defend the United States? McGovern lost by a landslide.

Rule One of political survival: Never, ever apologize. Even when you're wrong. Especially when you're wrong. Rule Two: Don't comment. Defending yourself keeps the story going. Corollary One to Rule One: Stand up for your friends. Especially when they're wrong.

But what if they're right?

"You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you," Reverend Wright said in his appearance at the National Press Club.

Pronouncing himself "offended" by such "ridiculous propositions" as "when [Wright] equates the United States' wartime efforts with terrorism--there are no excuses," Obama said the next day.

What is truly ridiculous is that, six and a half years after 9/11, many Americans still think the attacks were motivated by crazy freedom-haters out to forcibly convert them to Islam. The rise of radical Islam resulted from what Chalmers Johnson termed "Blowback"--CIA jargon for the unintended consequences, in this case of arming and funding Islamist fighters against the Soviet Union. But Wright was right. "America's chickens are coming home to roost," the Reverend said after 9/11.

It wasn't an original thought. Ward Churchill said the same thing. So have countless analysts in other countries. Only in the U.S. is it prohibited to say something so obvious--particularly in a public forum.

Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers didn't think flying planes into buildings would make Americans join the local mosque. They were motivated by a desire to bring America's wars home to its people, to ensure that it would suffer the consequences for having "supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans," as Wright said. Like Wright, bin Laden has referenced these issues.

The Al Qaeda founder has also talked about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, one of the greatest war crimes in history.

"Bin Laden has said several times that he is seeking to acquire and use nuclear weapons not only because it is God's will, but because he wants to do to American foreign policy what the United States did to Japanese imperial surrender policy," the Washington Post noted in 2005.

9/11 wasn't an attack on a legitimate target. It wasn't justifiable. Except for the Pentagon, the victims were civilians: clerks, cooks, office managers and bike messengers, the vast majority of whom probably opposed such foreign policies as the trade sanctions that killed 100,000 Iraqi children during the 1990s. But pretending that the killers of 9/11 were driven by motives other than to avenge American foreign policy in the Muslim world further delays a conversation we needed to have ages ago, and increases the likelihood of more attacks.

One of Wright's most bizarre statements concerns his "suggestion that the United States might have invented H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS," in the words of The New York Times. There is no evidence to support this accusation. Yet paranoia can reveal truth.

"Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," Wright told the NAACP last week. (In Tuskegee from 1932 to 1972, illiterate sharecroppers with syphilis were left untreated so that white doctors could observe the progress of the disease.) "In fact, one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non-question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people. So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable."

It shouldn't come as any surprise, given what the U.S. government has done and continues to do to African-Americans--a recent study shows, for example, that blacks are 12 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for the same drug offenses as whites--that many of them consider it "capable of doing anything." What is surprising is that African-Americans--or anyone else--still believes the government.

The Wright controversy offered us an opportunity to talk about the need to create a government that tells the truth, that doesn't torture or kidnap or wage unjustifiable wars--a government worthy of its people and its trust. What we got instead, courtesy of Mr. Change We Can Believe In, was the usual pablum. "They offend me," Obama said of Wright's comments. "They rightly offend all Americans."

Let us all hold hands and be offended. Whatever it takes to stop us from thinking.

Ted Rall is the author of the book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

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Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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