by Charles Notess *
Last Updated 4-30-08.
In April of 2008, those political writers who opposed Barack Obama's efforts to become President, radically distorted the sermon of Obama's minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. They selected particular sentences and publicized them out of context to distort the impression of Obama. In a one hour interview with Bill Moyers on April 25, 2008, Wright said that he talked about empires throughout history that have failed, and said that powerful governments do not act in ways that are consistent with the will of God. This was true of the Roman Empire and is also true of the government of the United States of America that did not treat native Americans and citizens of African descent fairly. The Moyers interview is accessible on the web at: [http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04252008/transcript1.html].
Like the prophets of old, Dr. Martin Luther King was vilified when he spoke about racism, militarism, and capitalism. Rev. Wright told Moyers that he thought people did not understand the meaning of the word "damn" as condemn. "They don't understand the root of the word, the etymology of the word in terms of God condemning the practices that are against God's people. In my book entitled: Countering Polarization, I refer to the writing of Emmanuel Todd, on pages 16-22 in his book: After the Empire - The Breakdown of the American Order. There are others who have also written about the coming decline of the American empire. Yet, our mass media seldom discuss this topic and vilify Wright after quoting him out of the context of a long successful and prophetic ministry.
In subsequent talks to the NAACP and the Washington Press Corps Rev. Wright continued presenting his views on inequality and African-American leaders who were in attendance showed their agreement by applauding. He differentiated the perspectives and implicit value hierarchies, of prophetic religious leaders from those of politicians who are running for high office. Each of the two groups view 15 second sound bytes differently. Obama in his response on the 29th of April had to disassociate himself from Wrights prophetic statements about the sinfulness of United States policy leaders. What is sad about the Wright-Obama disagreement is that Obama with two primary elections a week away was not free to transcended the confrontation and speak from a broader perspective. If he did, he would lose the primary voters he is trying to attract. Many of the unemployed in Indiana and N. Carolina would not appreciate a transcendent perspective and the media with their short summaries of his talk would likely distort any transcendent view instead of trying to help the citizens understand a broader perspective.
Nedra Pickler in an Associated Press article in page 11A of the Denver Post of 4-29-08 did a good job of summarizing recent statements of Rev. Wright. However, conservative writers criticize Pickler's perspective. A good example of criticizing Pickler's perspectives appears in Tom Blumer's web posting at: [http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2008/02/24/ap-s-nedra-pickler-has-obama-s-back].
When readers read a one sentence description about a candidate, they rely on their own perspective to fill in the blanks and they come up with different interpretations depending on the breadth of their perspectives. Small minded conservatives and liberals with narrow perspectives each come up with different opinions. Similarly, those conservatives and liberals who have larger perspectives and follow more complex but still different economic belief systems also come up with different opinions. The foregoing implies that to counter such polarization, an effective and pluralistic democracy needs journalists who can transcend the differing views and help inform people so that they can appreciate and understand the diverse perspectives of others in a pluralistic society.
A politician ideally tries to understand the perspectives of his or her constituents, ranging from those that have focused and narrow perspectives because they shared few experiences with people from different career, racial, and cultural backgrounds, to those others who have shared a variety of experiences with people from a broad mix of backgrounds and thus have broader perspectives. Few pastors have people with as great a variety of backgrounds in their congregations as the constituents of a politician because people join congregations wherein the members have some degree of consensus about religious matters, even though the congregation might include political conservatives and liberals. Unfortunately, most radio talk show hosts are not familiar with a broad range of perspectives and prefer to keep the views of their listeners focused on a narrow perspective that they can relate to. Similarly, some politicians rather than help broaden the perspectives of their followers, tend to focus their talks toward narrow and simple perspectives that attract followers or desired groups of supporters in key states that will help a them win an election.
Here are the URL's for transcripts of three addresses by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Talk to the National Press Club.
Talk to the NAACP.
See a Summary of my new book at: Countering Polarization.
* Notess has a Masters in Aero Engineering and a PhD in Sociology respectively from Cornell University, and SUNY at Buffalo. He is retired and lives with his wife in Loveland, Colorado.