Flap Over Obama’s Preacher Is Sign the Left Is A-Comin’ In

US Politics
on 16 Comments

It was exciting to hear Obama’s pastor, the fiery and bookish Jeremiah Wright, denouncing state-sponsored terrorism against the Palestinians on national television. You don’t hear this kind of statement in the mainstream! And the same day appears Janny Scott’s fabulous portrait of Obama’s late mother as a free-spirited woman of commitment who married dark-skinned foreigners and saw no boundaries. Said a high school classmate:

“She had a world view, even as a young girl. It was embracing the
different, rather than that ethnocentric thing of shunning the
different. That was where her mind took her.”

Barack’s mother was clearly a lefty. So was Michelle Obama in college. Now Wright, whom Obama called an "uncle" on Keith Olbermann tonight. Obama’s intellectual family is obviously leftwing. And while it’s plain that Obama has for a while taken care not to commit himself on unconventional ideas, still, as Ali Abunimah has reported, Obama was once righteous re the Palestinians. As you would expect, with that mother and wife and preacher.

This theme is not going to end with the ouster of Rev. Wright. There are sure to be other associations and statements over the years of a fiery quality.

I’m not afraid of this. As a triumphal lefty, I believe that progressive politics are coming back into the mainstream. 15 years ago Lani Guinier’s federal appointment was withdrawn by Bill Clinton after the right was able to portray her as an extremist for her creative ideas about civil rights. And yes in that political context, she was on the margins. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. The frame is moving left; the young people who are pouring out for Obama are not going to be scared by Jeremiah Wright blaming America for 9/11, they’ve heard that in dorms for years now. Dude we’re coming back. But hold tight–there’s bound to be friction as we reenter the earth’s atmosphere.

16 Responses

  1. Leila Abu-Saba
    March 14, 2008, 11:03 pm

    You have a lot more faith and hope than I do, but then again, I grew up in North Carolina and Illinois (Central Illinois) and I have right wing relatives both WASP and Arab all over the South. They are not going to be happy with this stuff. Well, probably the Arabs don't care about the rhetoric from the preacher but most of them are pretty unhappy about Obama for reasons I don't like to imagine. (anti-Muslim sentiments, vestigial racism they don't like to admit) The leftiest relatives are mad at him for selling out on Palestine, but what is he supposed to do?

  2. Richard Silverstein
    March 14, 2008, 11:04 pm


    Do you think our government invented AIDS to kill people of color?
    Is that, to your mind, a "lefty" position?
    Or is it not simply paranoid, ghetto fascism?

  3. Jesus Reyes
    March 15, 2008, 3:28 am

    I don't know what you are smoking, but I'll take some of it. The only thing that is going to end this long Likudite nightmare is a catastrophe of biblical proportions. They are going to chew Obama up, spit him out and then nuke Iran.

  4. Leila Abu-Saba
    March 15, 2008, 6:43 am

    I am puzzled, not puzzle. Sorry. Shouldn't blog in the wee hours…

  5. hlmeankin
    March 15, 2008, 7:02 am

    Recent remarks by Obama and his advisors to Israeli officials and Haaretz..link to haaretz.com
    indicate he is only tactically different than the neocons in his willinglness to go to the brink to stop Iran from posing a n "existential threat"(sic) to Israel. So even he is prepared after attempting diplomacy, to start WW3. And for what? Iran poses no threat to the US. The alleged comment by the Iranian president to wipe Israel off the map,is a deliberate distortion of what he really said. He said he wanted the regime to be removed, not the people. Not the Jews. It is Israel that insists it can equate having a state run by-and bascially in the interest of jews world wide. For this goal, Obama appears ready to sacrifice America's blood and treasure.
    So where's the change???

  6. Jim Haygood
    March 15, 2008, 10:30 am

    "As a triumphal lefty, I believe that progressive politics are coming back into the mainstream." – Phil

    'Lefty' is old-fashioned semantics; lefties can be just as ossified as right-wing tyrannosaurs. Some new terminology is needed here.

    A social activist friend in the Berkshires who recently shared a speakers platform with James Howard Kunstler (author of the blog Clusterfuck Nation) had an epiphany. Baby Boomers defined themselves as open-minded in the Sixties, because they embraced sex, drugs & rock 'n roll, while their parents didn't. But aging Boomers are now bought into the system. They can only lose from change.

    A different picture emerged in Ron Paul's presidential campaign, in which the 70-year-old candidate's fund-raising was largely self-organized by volunteers 30 and 40 years his junior. This generation is not bought into the system, and is passionate for change based on explicit ideas, not just airy platitudes of the Obama variety.

    So, my social activist friend will make his next presentation on a college campus. He's noticed, as I have, that even blogs and forums like this one are largely age-segregated — the audience is mostly Booomers, 50 and 60-somethings. I don't know where the 20 and 30-somethings hang out, but they're not on any of the sites I visit. So he's going to listen to them, and find out where that Ron Paul grassroots energy goes after this year.

    Bottom line, Phil's assertion is correct: progressive populism, however labeled, is coming back with a vengeance. The driver is economic: the paper-money asset-Bubble war economy can no longer support fantasy-land living standards based on ever-escalating house prices and debt. Some limits to growth may have been reached or exceeded. It is not merely a redistribution problem, as the old-line left thinks. Nor is Reaganite supply-side "growth" the answer, if hard constraints have been hit.

    Obama may have the charismatic personality to head this process, but I doubt he has the economic background. Legal training, which emphasizes dividing up the cake rather than improving the cake for all, probably will be a handicap. Bill Clinton was a constitutional law professor too. Yikes.

  7. LeaNder
    March 15, 2008, 1:00 pm

    Richard Silverstein: What makes you associate the AIDS myth with what Philip wrote above? I am puzzled.

    Jim: Do you know what share of the whole US economy the military complex is? What do you estimate GDP wise?

    Pentagon, military, military complex, R & D, jobs, … What part of the complete US GDP?

    What are Ron Paul's precise proposals in this respect. Or in other words what is his isolationist vision beyond leaving NATO, UN, NAFTA? and returning to US alone and only pure defense militarily?

    E.g. what is he going to offer to all the ones that would loose jobs in the larger scenario – were he the big decider? Or is he of the opinion that's their own problem? [Including military complex shares of some pension funds? In case something like this exists]

    Do you think that his medical background, apart from his activist one does make him an expert in economy?

    Admittedly I am not sure what to think of him. As I do not know much about him.

  8. Jim Haygood
    March 15, 2008, 1:43 pm


    LeaNder, Wikipedia says that U.S. military spending is 4% of GDP. The percentage would be larger if private-sector arms exports are included.

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    "What is [Ron Paul] going to offer to all the ones that would loose jobs in the larger scenario – were he the big decider? Or is he of the opinion that's their own problem?"

    Ironically, that's almost the same question I was asked by one of the AIPAC supporters who confronted me outside the Rockleigh Country Club. The conversation went like this:

    AIPAC: Why do you spell "I$RAEL" with a dollar sign?

    Jim: Because I object to sending Israel $3 billion a year.

    AIPAC: Do you know what that money is spent on?

    Jim: Some of it is spent on the Israeli military.

    AIPAC: Right. Most of it is used to buy arms from the United States. Do you object to creating jobs for American workers?

    Jim: I object to giving ANY country money to buy arms from the U.S., not just Israel.

    AIPAC: So why does your sign only mention Israel?

    Jim: Because this dinner is sponsored by a pro-Israel group.


    Considering America's dependence on imported energy, its aging infrastructure, and the questionable quality of its education and health care, there is plenty of scope for domestic investment of the money now spent on the overseas military empire. I have no doubt that the jobs would be forthcoming. Every economy naturally evolves to serve the needs that people are willing to spend on.

    Large overseas military expenditures are an important factor in weakening the US dollar. It's utterly surrealistic to hear Treasury Secty. Paulson and Simian-in-Chief Bush touting the "strong dollar policy." That's like Jenna Jameson touting her "strong chastity policy." Big Lies work, if repeated often and loudly enough.

  9. Charles Keating
    March 15, 2008, 6:05 pm

    “The Costs to American Taxpayers of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: $3 Trillion” is a summary of economic research done by Thomas R. Stauffer. Stauffer’s summary of the research was published in the June 2003 issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The $3 trillion figure (using 2002 dollars) is conservative as it does not include the increased costs incurred during the year-long buildup to the war against Iraq in which Israel played a significant, albeit covert, role. The higher oil prices that have occurred as a result of the attack on Iraq have been absorbed by the consumers. BTW Stauffer delineates the full maze of aid to Israel, including many hidden costs and the finer details of how the total aid maze works. Guess I better go fill up my tank. See The Real Cost of US Support for Israel: $3 Trillion, By Christopher Bollyn

  10. LeaNder
    March 15, 2008, 8:01 pm

    So ask questions like I was a AIPAC supporter?

    Concerning "Christopher Bollyn" – mentioned by the "Charles-Keating-hijacker" above – I probably have the same opinion as the average AIPAC member too:

    link to google.de

    But since I would have supported German neutrality post WWII myself, I can't really say anything against what you write above.

  11. jorge999
    March 15, 2008, 11:44 pm

    Ari Berman in the March 31 issue of The Nation provides a detailed look at the extensive smear campaign being waged against Obama by neo-cons, likudniks,right wingers,–and yes– Clinton operatives.
    Berman has done his homework and names names.

    link to thenation.com

  12. Glenn Condell
    March 16, 2008, 12:30 am

    'Richard Silverstein: What makes you associate the AIDS myth with what Philip wrote above? I am puzzled.'

    I assume Pastor Wright must have made such an allusion, which I would agree is a bit of a worry.

    'Jim: Do you know what share of the whole US economy the military complex is? What do you estimate GDP wise?'

    I am no maven on this, but Chalmers Johnson is and if you read his archive at TomDispatch, you will see several figures and comparisons that will furrow your brow. One example – the outlay on defence, govt and consultants, including security and intel, is a greater dollar figure every year than the entire value of the US stock market.

    I guess everyone knows the military is by some distance the US's largest employer, and that it's the world's biggest single consumer of oil.

    As Johnson points out, it can't go on forever.

    'Big Lies work, if repeated often and loudly enough.'

    Only if no-one calls them on it. Particularly if those whose job it is to call them on it are themselves part of the effort to mislead.

    'Berman has done his homework and names names.'

    Ari Berman's great – if he's related to Paul Berman, family get-togethers would be worth a ringside seat.

  13. Charles Keating
    March 16, 2008, 8:23 am

    So, LeaNder, what does AIPAC think of Thomas R. Stauffer?

    BTW: Here is another three trillion dollar debacle supplement focusing on the Iraq war:

    1.) First USA war totally financed by borrowing, 40% from abroad.
    2.) First USA war followed right up by big tax cuts (mostly benefitting the rich).
    3.) First USA war substantially privitized, sending the same troops back to fight time and time again (cf: Battle Of The Bulge, but writ larger, every modern GI having signed his volunteer contract without reading the fine print).
    4.) First USA war totally funded without budget overlook, via
    [so far] 25 emergency supplements (originlly meant for events like Katrina).
    5.) A war where both accounting for the maimed and actual fiscal costs has been intentionally offiscated by the current regime via a sea of fraudlent accounting.

    In short, actual total cost of war to date is way beyond the upfront cost. Just another example of the oliarchy keeping the
    masses ignorant (Goebbels set an effective precedent, though the US works a la Bernays within the veneer of democracy).

    All the above and much more, see Joe Stiglitz (Noble prize winner in Economics), "The Three Trillion dollar War."

  14. Protest
    March 16, 2008, 11:23 am

    I am lefter than Phil, but proud of my integrity and decency.

    The earlier we dump the spineless Obama the better.

    We need intellectual innovators on the left, or we will be labeled as the brainless left.

    Pete Seeger is a sweet guy. Go on to demonstrate for peace on Wednesday with him in Beacon. Peter is more Christian than most of the Christians, and his Communism is admirable.

    He is equally for humanity, if you are an American, an Iraqi, an Iranian, an Israeli, or a Palestinian.

    Phil is remaining prejudiced regarding the Palestinian case, and supports all genocidal leaders and representative of the Palestinians, who do not look in the mirror to reject themselves.

  15. Leila Abu-Saba
    March 15, 2008, 6:42 am

    After reading about Obama's mother, I am puzzled that you call her a leftist. She worked for the Ford Foundation, a known CIA front. She was only a leftist as compared to a Bushista… Why don't you say that she's a classic liberal? Liberal who put her life where her mouth was – she lived her values.

    I identify with her – my mother made a similar choice at twenty, to marry an Arab student – but my father never left us and he and my mother remained devoted to each other all of his life. But mom followed him back to Lebanon at the time of my birth; later he supported her in getting her Ph.D.

    My parents, and Stanley Ann Obama Soetero, are labeled big leftists in America today, but their values make real leftie Communists and Socialists sneer. My parents and Dr. Soetero work within the system, trying to create change using the institutions we have. I think this is germane to who Obama is. He is not the son of a white woman who took up arms against the USA – he's the son of a white woman who ended up at the Ford Foundation establishing microcredit programs, the ultimate liberal project.

    And Barack has grown up hearing fiery angry rhetoric from farther to his left, from people he works with, people who mentor him, people who support him. I recognize this, too – I heard all manner of angry violent rhetoric when I was growing up. I concluded that people who go to such extremes are ineffective and sometimes dangerous even to their fellow travelers.

    My parents were friends with "atom spy" Morton Sobel, (friend of the Rosenbergs, went to jail with them) and my brother and I quizzed him when we were young adolescents. We found his Communism and his answers about his alleged spying unsatisfactory. We were exposed to the true beliefs of the unreconstructed far left and decided it wasn't for us.

    I had thought that Obama was too centrist for me. I recognize the cultural mix that made him and I feel more comfortable with his politics now. He's a realist who's still an idealist. That's a true American in my opinion…

    (PS, my mother says she won't vote for him because he sold out the Palestinians.)

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