Jim Antle writes:
That Obama was not aware of Wright’s statements until he began his presidential campaign is a bit hard to believe, and any evidence that Obama was in fact present for controversial sermons or speeches could be damaging. It’s also hard to believe that this statement would be enough to end the controversy if it was a Republican attending, say, John Hagee’s church.
That may be, but the example of Hagee specifically is an interesting one, since it seems clear that the media have shown relatively little interest in making much out of McCain’s acceptance of Hagee’s endorsement, just as the mainstream media showed relatively little interest when Huckabee did attend John Hagee’s church in the weeks leading up to Iowa as part of his effort to bid for evangelical votes (which, as we know, boosted him to victory in the caucuses). Huckabee was the media darling at the time, and so he escaped without much negative coverage, just as McCain is the eternal media darling whose failures and pandering will always be described as unfortunate-but-necessary deviations from his glorious reformist purity. Because Huckabee was the insurgent and the long-shot, his association directly with Hagee’s church was scarcely noticed outside of conservative Catholic circles. Since the media’s favourite in McCain had essentially won the nomination by the time Hagee endorsed him and no one thought that McCain shared Hagee’s religious views, there was no strong impulse to rake McCain over the coals because of this.
This fits in with a broader pattern of media treatment of McCain’s relationship with evangelicals. Since journalists know that he doesn’t like them and doesn’t identify with them, his acceptance of Hagee’s endorsement and his commencement address at Liberty are written off as shameless but unavoidable instances of pandering that they assume he despises doing. They have made him into their heroic Republican who bucks the party base, so any episode when he embraces the base it is interpreted as insincere and meaningless. In this way, McCain can pander to evangelicals in this way and not lose credibility in the eyes of journalists, while Romney could engage in equally unpersuasive contortions of principle and be deemed nothing other than a fraud (which ties in to resentments against Romney because he abandoned his former social liberalism to become an implausible culture warrior).
Furthermore, in the twisted world of our foreign policy debates Hagee is counted as something of a mainstream Republican figure. He attends AIPAC’s conferences as a speaker and he is someone who is taken seriously as the leader of an increasingly influential “pro-Israel” evangelical lobby. It is inconceivable that Wright would receive praise from someone like Joe Lieberman as a “man of God”, and it is also difficult to imagine that if Wright had described a war, including the bombardment of innocent civilians, as a “miracle from God”–as Hagee did during the war in Lebanon–that he would be regarded as anything other than a fanatic. Because Hagee takes the right views on Israel and glorifies the killing of Arab civilians, he becomes an acceptable figure in the national debate, while Wright is supposed to be relegated to the lunatic fringe, and this in part because he does not defend the policies leading to the mistreatment of Palestinians. Indeed, this is one place where Obama has made clear time and again that he does not share his pastor’s concerns about such injustices all that often, and that he is quite independent of Wright’s influence when the time came to endorse the disproportionate response of Israel against Lebanon. Wright has said false, hateful and dreadful things, but to my knowledge he has not publicly gloried in the killing of innocents or endorsed excessive, disproportionate uses of force as Hagee and Obama have respectively done. Such is the strange nature of what counts as “controversial” in our discourse: advocating aggressive war, the bombing of civilians, torture and the possible first-strike use of tactical nukes are all considered debatable positions on policy and have all been offered by major candidates for the Presidency either during the campaign or in their previous work, but to engage in intemperate and indeed appalling rhetoric that will actually harm and maim no one is evidence of the need for exclusion from respectable society. There is something deeply wrong about those priorities that seek to police thought, but which do little or nothing to challenge advocacy for deeply immoral actions. If the one merits being driven out of the debate, how much more should the other merit even more severe consequences?
Conservatives are accustomed to a double standard being applied in the press that favours black churches and disadvantages white evangelical ones, especially during political campaigns, but we really are seeing the reverse of that in these two cases. Part of the reason for the reversal is that the sudden surge in interest in Obama’s church is part of the larger adjustment of the mainstream media away from its generally hands-off, fawning treatment of the candidate. None of this information was secret, nor was it hard to find, but until recently there was little desire to draw attention to anything that might decisively throw the race to Clinton. However, the surge in negative coverage now that Obama has an essentially unassailable pledged delegate lead may end up pushing more superdelegates to Clinton and make the nomination more difficult to acquire.
Update: Michael profiled Christians United for Israel last August.