- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright thinks that, given their treatment by white America, black Americans have no reason to sing “God Bless America.”

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God d… America,” he told his congregation. “God d… America for treating our citizens as less than human.”

I’m not a believer in guilt by association, or the campaign vaudeville of rival politicians insisting this or that candidate disassociate himself from remarks by some fellow he had a 30-second grip’n’greet with a decade ago. But Jeremiah Wright is not exactly peripheral to Barack Obama’s life. He married the Obamas and baptized their children. Those of us who made the mistake of buying the senator’s last book, “The Audacity Of Hope”and assumed the title was an ingeniously parodic distillation of the great sonorous banality of an entire genre of blandly uplifting political writing discovered circa Page 127 that in fact the phrase comes from one of the Rev. Wright’s sermons. Jeremiah Wright has been Barack Obama’s pastor for 20 years — in other words, pretty much the senator’s entire adult life. Did Mr. Obama consider “God D… America” as a title for his book but it didn’t focus-group so well?

Ah, well, no, the senator told ABC News. The Rev. Wright is like “an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” So did he agree with goofy old Uncle Jeremiah on Sept. 16, 2001? That Sunday morning, Uncle told his congregation that the United States brought the death and destruction of September 11 on itself. “We nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” said the Rev. Wright. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards.”

Is that one of those “things I don’t always agree with”? Well, Mr. Obama isn’t saying, responding merely that he wasn’t in church that morning. OK, fair enough, but what would he have done had he happened to have shown up that Sept. 16? Cried “Shame on you” and stormed out? Or, if that’s a little dramatic, whispered to Michelle that he didn’t want their daughters hearing this kind of drivel while rescue workers were still sifting through the rubble and risen from his pew in a dignified manner and led his family to the exit? Or would he have just sat there with an inscrutable look on his face as those around him nodded?

All Mr. Obama will say is that “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” And in that he may be correct. There are many preachers who would be happy to tell their congregations “God d… America.” But Barack Obama is not supposed to be the candidate of the America-damners: He’s not the Rev. Al Sharpton or the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the rest of the racial grievance-mongers. Mr. Obama is meant to be the man who transcends the divisions of race, the candidate who doesn’t damn America but “heals” it — if you believe, as many Democrats do, that America needs healing.

Yet since his early 20s he’s sat week after week listening to the ravings of just another cookie-cutter race-huckster.

What is Barack Obama for? It’s not his “policies,” such as they are. Rather, Mr. Obama embodies an idea: He’s a symbol of redemption and renewal, and a lot of other airy-fairy abstractions that don’t boil down to much except making upscale white liberals feel good about themselves and get even more of a frisson out of white liberal guilt than they usually do. I assume that’s what Geraldine Ferraro was getting at when she said Mr. Obama wouldn’t be where he was today (i.e., leading the race for the Democratic nomination) if he was white. For her infelicity, the first woman on a presidential ticket got bounced from the Clinton campaign and denounced by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann for her “insidious racism” indistinguishable from “the vocabulary of David Duke.”

Oh, for cryin’ out loud. Enjoyable as it is to watch previously expert wielders of identity-politics hand grenades blow their own fingers off, if Geraldine Ferraro’s an “insidious racist,” who isn’t?

The song the Rev. Wright won’t sing is by Irving Berlin, a contemporary of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Lorenz Hart, all the sophisticated rhymesters. But only Berlin could have written without embarrassment “God Bless America.” He said it directly, unaffectedly, unashamedly — in seven words:

“God Bless America

“Land that I love.”

Berlin was a Jew and he suffered slights: He grew up in the poverty of New York’s Lower East Side. When he made his name and fortune, his marriage to a Park Avenue heiress resulted in her expulsion from the Social Register. In the 1930s, her sister moved in with a Nazi diplomat and proudly flaunted her diamond swastika to Irving. But Berlin spent his infancy in Temun, Siberia (until the Cossacks rode in and razed his village) and he understood the great gift he had been given:

“God Bless America

“Land that I love.”

The Rev. Wright can’t say those words. His shtick is:

“God d… America

“Land that I loathe.”

I understand the Ellis Island experience of Russian Jews was denied to blacks. But not to Mr. Obama. His experience surely isn’t so different to Berlin’s — except that Barack got to go to Harvard, his father was a Kenyan, he spent his childhood in Indonesia and he ought to thank his lucky stars he is running for office in Washington rather than Nairobi or Jakarta. Instead, his whiney wife Michelle says her husband’s election as president would be the first reason to have “pride” in America, and complains that this country is “downright mean” and that she is having difficulty finding money for their daughters’ piano lessons and summer camp.

Between them, Mr. and Mrs. Obama earn $480,000 a year (not including book royalties from “The Audacity Of Hype,” but they’re whining about how tough they have it to couples who earn 48 grand — or less. Yes, we can. But not on a lousy half-million bucks a year.

God has blessed America, and blessed the Obamas in America, and even blessed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose bashing of his own country would be far less lucrative anywhere else on the planet. The “racist” here is not Geraldine Ferraro but the Rev. Wright, whose appeals to racial bitterness are supposed to be everything President Obama will transcend. Right now, it sounds more like the same-old same-old.

“God Bless America

“Land that I love.”

Take it away, Michelle.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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