Cohen on Obama's Church and Farrakhan:

The issue is quickly hitting the mainstream, as the Washington Post's Richard Cohen has a column today that starts:

Barack Obama is a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama's spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said "truly epitomized greatness." That man is Louis Farrakhan.

Obama's close ties to Rev. Wright and Trinity United raise two related issues. First, as I noted yesterday, Obama campaigns as a "uniter." Yet his spiritual mentor, and longtime pastor of his church, is an ardent admirer of Louis Farrakhan. One can even argue that Farrakhan has done some admirable things, despite his racist demagoguery. Unfortunately, Rev. Wright's praise for Farrakhan is precisely based on Farrakhan's racist demagoguery, what Rev. Wright calls Farrakhan's "astounding and eyeopening" analysis of the "racial ills of this nation," a "perspective" that is "helpful and honest." Such as "White people are potential humans - they haven't evolved yet"? Or "they [the Jews] are the greatest controllers of black minds, black intelligence." For Obama to merely brush this all off as "I don't always agree with Rev. Wright" doesn't exactly satisfy. People are routinely judged, after all, by the company they keep, and one would think that someone running for president as a "uniter" would have kept rather different company.

Relatedly, one implication of electing a president is that his "circle" suddenly becomes much more powerful and influential. At the very least, if Obama wins, if his spiritual life remains constant, Rev. Wright will inevitably become one of the most influential ministers in the world, and his church one of the most important churches. Remember Rabbi Michael Lerner's moment in the sun when Hillary Clinton consulted him about the "politics of meaning"? And Hillary, of course, isn't even Jewish! Rev. Wright is not the most pressing issue facing Democratic voters, but given the relatively small policy differences among the Democratic candidates, it's certainly worth considering on the margin (as is, for example, the implications of returning to power such lovely members of the Clinton circle as Sidney Blumenthal).

Finally, it strikes me as completely fair to raise this issue, at least given the current accepted role of religion in politics in the U.S., and the widespread importance placed on tolerance. Pres. Bush has (properly) been criticized for giving a speech at Bob Jones University, which had a ban on interracial dating based purportedly on its leaders' interpretation of Christian scripture. (I say purportedly because after all the bad publicity that attended Bush's visit, the policy was dropped). Mitt Romney has felt obligated to address the Mormon church's past history of bigoted teachings and policy. Giuliani and McCain have been criticized for playing footsie with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, respectively; imagine if they had announced that these men were their close friends and spiritual mentors! If there's some reason Obama deserves a special pass on this, I can't think of it.

UPDATE: An interesting angle that I noticed perusing some related commentary. Rev. Wright is obviously a smart, savvy individual. He knows that many of his views are controversial, and told the NY Times last year that he understood he could cause some problems for Obama. So why have his magazine honor Farrakhan, and why be quoted praising Farrakhan, in the middle of Obama's campaign for president? Odd.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's the video created to honor Farrakhan at the Trumpet Gala. After a clip of Farrakhan discussing his willingness to die for "truth," The narrator explains that Farrakhan is being honored for his commitment to truth, education, and leadership. Thanks for ruining my breakfast...