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Posted by on Jan 28, 2008 in Politics, Religion | 24 comments

Obama conference calls with Jewish leaders

From a JTA News Alert today:

Obama listed falsehoods that appeared in an e-mail campaign aimed at Jewish voters.

“I never practiced Islam. I was raised by my secular mother. I have been a member of the Christian religion and an active member of a church,” he said. “I was sworn in with my hand on my family Bible and have said the Pledge of Allegiance since I was 3 years old.”

Obama, who also answered questions about his Iran and Israel-Palestinian policies, as well as noting that he had rebuked his church’s past association with Louis Farrakhan, concluded: “My strong and deep commitment and connection to the Jewish community should not be questioned.”

You can read more from the JTA and listen to the conference call here. This Washington Post column by Richard Cohen does a good job of detailing Obama’s church’s recent identification with Louis Farrakhan, whom the church said, “epitomized greatness” and why it feels problematic to some people.

As I’ve been trying to choose between the Democratic primary choices, I’ve spent more time looking at their statements and positions on Jews, Israel and the Middle East. Here’s Obama in today’s call on his church’s connection to Farrakhan:

Asked why it was sufficient for him to denounce his church’s recent praise for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan but not resign from the church itself, Obama repeated his condemnation of Farrakhan’s “reprehensible” anti-Semitic views. Then he added what sounds like a promise: “My church has never issued anti-Semitic statements, nor have I heard my pastor utter anything anti-Semitic. If I have, I would have left the church.”

Are we okay with this stance? Would not resigning from a group led by individuals who laud someone like Farrakhan be good enough for other politicians or civic leaders, or have we, in the past, demanded that such people more firmly condemn a person who is considered by some to be homophobic, anti-Semitic and racist? Is there more Obama should be doing vis a vis ensuring his church’s “clean hands” or should we just not impute any uncleanliness to Obama?

I ask, because I’m not sure. What do you expect?

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  • Holly_in_Cincinnati

    I’ve read Pastor Wright’s utterances, so this is not acceptable.

  • What, then, is the appropriate response from Obama? Should he be leaned on for a further repudiation? Why isn’t that happening, if it should?

  • Well I had associations with Louis Farrakhan. Met him in Chicago back in 2003. Shook his hand. Asked a few questions. Socialized some. Laughed at a joke about the Chicago Cubs. So I’ve been closer to Minister Farrakhan than Barack Obama. And I disagree with much of what Farrakhan says and believes. So should I get on TMV and denounce him with the harshest of language possible? I guess I could. But I haven’t had my oatmeal yet.

    So since I’ve been technically closer to Farrakhan and I don’t have an anti-Semetic bone, fiber, or tendon in my body, Obama’s stance is good enough for me. Unless you feel he harbors anti-Semetic views and can show that he has said as much. I don’t see it.

    I submit that former Senator John Edwards and Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ARE NOT anti-Semetic. Can we move on now? Puh-leeze?? With a dollop of Edy’s Apple Pie ice cream on top???

  • shika_one

    And you were just positively chummy with the Ol’ Demagogue too, T-Steel (T-Steel and I have known each other for 10 years and I was there at his Farrakhan chance encounter).

    I don’t like these type of “associate of an associate associations so they better dis-associate strongly” games. A person is a racist, bigot, anti-Semite by their words and deeds. And somehow, this issue seems to try to associate Obama with anti-Semtism albeit lightly. Add the whole stupid “HE’S A MUSLIM INFILTRATOR” nonsense and you get ugliness. Icky!

  • And you gave me the cold shoulder for two days because of my “chumminess”. Sheesh! Forgot you were commenting here now. I better watch myself!

    What, then, is the appropriate response from Obama? Should he be leaned on for a further repudiation? Why isn’t that happening, if it should?

    As my good friend Shika says “a person is a racist, bigot, anti-Semite by their words and deeds”. So I don’t think he should be leaned on for a further repudiation. I don’t think anyone should be subject to that be it Democrat, Republican, or Independent. These type of issues can grow into the type of nastiness where a candidate will spend all of his/her time repudiating and less on the issues/campaign at hand.

  • PaulSilver

    Everything I have heard from Obama indicates that he is as blind to color, creed, race, gender, and class as anyone I have ever known. Perhaps his example will inspire his church to act likewise.

  • Slamfu

    How many Catholics use birth control? People can’t be held responsible for what their religous leaders say and do, and often live their lives in spite of the more foolish proclamations of their faith.

  • cosmoetica


    Was there any real purpose to your post, save for demagoguing in the fashion you disdain Farrakhan for?

  • Holly – you read the Pastor’s words and seem to feel a little differently. Will I be able to coax you to say a little more about that?

    While I agree about not stretching associations ad nauseum, I’ll stick my toe in a little deeper as far as what Holly might be intimating just for the sake of argument – and I really mean this to apply to anyone, in any analogous situation:

    If a leader of faith espouses certain positions, admires and demonstrates admiration for certain qualities, is it really that unreasonable to infer that he would like his followers to do and feel the same way?

    See – I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

    HOWEVER – what I read you all writing is that if the follower’s deeds (Obama’s in this case), show us that he simply doesn’t fall in line with the path the leader constructs or outlines, then that speaks for itself as well.

    And I think that that is reasonable.

    I would only add that if a leader I’m following, in any realm, continues to admire and condone behavior, repeatedly, that I just don’t see as admirable or worthy of being condoned, then I do think that some serious thought needs to be given as to whether that person is a leader I can follow even in the most minimal way.

    I guess that’s part of what the story may look like from this point forward: what does the preacher continue to preach and how much of a leader is that person in the life of Obama? There has to be a point at which a follower (in the sense of belonging to a religious place) says, you know – we just don’t have much in common – I need to find another person whom I can follow who has more in sync with me.

    Otherwise, I would come to infer, and think it reasonable to infer, that Obama feels sympatico with this religious leader.

    Do you know what I mean?

    I’m not looking for time to be wasted on repudiation or explanation. But is a good blog topic, isn’t it? 🙂

  • cosmoetica

    So, Jill, in answer to my query; that would be a ‘yes.’

  • I must have started the comment before yours showed up, but finished it afterwards? Sorry about that –

    Your question was:

    “Was there any real purpose to your post, save for demagoguing in the fashion you disdain Farrakhan for?”

    I don’t think that’s a very fair question, to be honest. It’s kind of insulting, really. Why do you assume I WAS “demaogoguing in the fashion” I disdain Farrakhan for? Even in the few posts I’ve written and comments, that hasn’t been my style – I’m much more the asks questions no one else asks or asks the stupid questions type (not that I should be proud of either one, it’s just where I land a lot).

    I had to look up Farrakhan on Wikipedia to remember why he is so controversial. I had to look up what had been said by the preacher to understand why Obama even bothered with the phone call. I’ve been getting e-mails about the repudiation left and right and never writing/blogging about it.

    Why? Because I agree with what T_steel and others say, in general, and I also believe in what I wrote – which is that at a certain point, what a person we think we revere says can hit a tipping point eventually and make us say, you know – no, that’s just not something I can keep following. The consensus here ate least seems to be that this preacher is no where near that tipping point and people should stop imputing his praises to Obama. I can accept that, and I accept it along with what I then said (that not much more comes up of the type that would make us re-visit this – or make Obama re-visit it, as apparently he has).

    Since I’m so unfamiliar with this whole aspect of Obama being attacked, I wanted to find out what others thought – get perspective.

    These comments give me some perspective.

    So my answer to your question would be, yes – there is a “real” purpose to this post: to get perspective. And to give perspective. Even your comment adds perspective. i consider that to be a very important part of trying – even if not always succeeding in being moderate.


  • G_Hendricks

    Please. Farrakhan is an unpleasant fart at worst. He does not pose the threat of a Hitler or an Osama bin Laden.

    And why is it so hard to recognize that re: this issue, Farrakhan is just Willie Horton. If Hillary were opposing Dukakis, she’d be calling him a rapist and convicted murderer.

  • I don’t know if I agree that Farrakhan is Willie Horton.

    Willie Horton stood for the fact that we do risk assessments and sometimes we’re wrong – that’s the risk. Where it was misused against Dukakis was to imply that the one with whom he got the risk wrong should be considered emblematic of ALL furloghed folks – and of course that’s not the case.

    Farrakhan doesn’t really stand for anything like that, I don’t think – or not that I see.

    As I’ve indicated, I haven’t followed this issue from the start – I’m asking a more academic question about when do we decide to “quit” someone or when do we expect others to “quit” someone and whether Obama is in such a situation. Again, the consensus seems to be that neither he nor his preacher are at that point.

    I’m not aware of when this issue first arose – I really didn’t find it of value until this umpteenth e-mail I got about it today. Are you saying that Clinton pointed it out?

  • Idiosyncrat

    Jill, you look at these things on a case-by-case basis, based on the person and the circumstances. Bottom line — do you think that Obama is an anti-Semite? I don’t. This guy has seemingly done everything possible to keep the race-baiting Sharptons and Jacksons out of this world… I can’t imagine he’s a Farrakhan fan. When he condemns the guy, I believe he means it.

    Obama’s gift is “soft power”… We shouldn’t confuse it with lack of conviction and make him jump through more hoops.

  • Idiosyncrat

    oops — a bit of a typo. Meant “out of HIS world” and not “this” world. Y’all have a field day with Freudian analysis on that… 🙂

  • I completely agree, Idiosyncrat – Freudian slip notwithstanding. 🙂 And like you, I do not think that Obama is an anti-Semite – whether he is or isn’t was never a concern to me – it’s his following this particular religious leader that has me asking questions.

    I think maybe this one is hitting the one-dimensional wall with me, on a new blog for me, only in my second week. On my own blog, an astonishing number of readers have either met me or seen me or heard me and so I know that many of them can hear and see me really being quizzical here and not aggressive or trying to pigeonhole anyone.

    All along, the thing that’s been most curious to me has been:

    At what point is it reasonable to say, “You know – you say you stand for one thing, but the religious leader you follow espouses another – how do you square that and why don’t you find a different religious leader who is more in line with what you think?”

    I would apply a similar kind of questioning to Republicans who follow Bush – at what point do they say to themselves, I simply do not agree with nor can I any longer follow this man. Or with Pelosi or, tada, with the Clintons. You know what I mean (look at Matt Dowd who left the Bush admin. or at the former Clinton advisors who’ve gone to Obama or even Dick Morris).

    Comments in this thread indicate to me that this case hasn’t hit the point at which people seem to think Obama should be asked this or needs to find a new religious leader. And I’m saying, okay.

    And the comments really, really help. And I imagine I’m not the only one who asks these questions. And I still want Holly to chime back in! 😉

  • cosmoetica


    When one uses a tactic of guilt by association, twice removed- i.e.- Farrakhan’s a bigoted nut who has a follower who’s not all there, and this guy knows and/or preaches to Obama’s congregation, therefore. is Obama as bad as the first guy, that’s classic demagoguery, going back to the 18th C. in this nation.

    There are real issues in this campaign: healthcare, the war, immigration, the economy, etc. Things like is Obama a Moslem, is he a bigot because he knows bigots, etc., are silly, and you should be a) smart enough to know it’s a silly issue, and b) ethical enough to ignore such claims and those who curry in them.

    G. Hendricks made a good point, that you are engaging in Willie Hortonism.

    ‘I don’t think that’s a very fair question, to be honest. It’s kind of insulting, really. ‘

    Au contraire, it’s a very fair q when the questioned is currying in demagoguery, and the sort of demagoguery that insults your readers; as if we are not smart enough to be able to separate individuals from each other.

    In my mother’s extended family, many of them died in the Nazi death camps and many of them fled to S. America after WW2. So, wd it be fair for one to claim she’s tarred by 1/2 her clan’s sins?

    That’s the sort of logic you are purveying, and when you ask, ‘”You know – you say you stand for one thing, but the religious leader you follow espouses another – how do you square that and why don’t you find a different religious leader who is more in line with what you think?”‘ well, that’s the very reason it is religion. Religion , by its nature, is illogical. How many Catholics are virgins on their wedding days or have abortions. Most religious leaders are figureheads.

    I’d guess Obama doesn’t give a rat’s ass who heads his church. It’s simply not that high on his, or most folks’ lists. Recall, he’s just a politician. Do you really think Hillary prays as much as she claims?

    So, again, with all the real issues in need of in depth analysis and dialectic, why are you currying in Oprah level puffery?

  • Jill (and everybody) — perhaps I’m missing something. You said:

    “…detailing Obama’s church’s recent identification with Louis Farrakhan, whom the church said, “epitomized greatness”…”

    But it was not “his church”, was it? My impression is this entire issue stemmed from an award given via a magazine published and edited by Rev. Wright and his daughters.

    Is the concern here that Rev. Wright, as a spiritual leader, is bringing his approbation of Farrakhan into the pulpit? That he’s exhorting his flock to follow his lead on this? Because I haven’t read that anyplace at all.

  • elrod

    Good God, this is such a ridiculous exercise. I am a Jew. I hate Louis Farrakhan for the obvious reasons. And Barack Obama owes NO more genuflection over his pastor’s remarks on Farrakhan. My guess is that the people who raise these sorts of “questions” about Obama are the same ones who used to complain about all the “schwaaaartzes” in the neighborhood (and there were plenty in my distant family).

  • Cosmo: Ok – see – this is very tough for me. I understand what you’re saying, and I can tell you with as much sincerity as I can muster that this whole demagoguery thing fits nowhere within what I was asking about, but I can’t force you to accept that. So – you can shake your head and not believe me, or you can give me the benefit of the doubt. Up to you.

    I asked what people think – we got what people think. Why must my asking equal demagoguery or Oprah puffery (I don’t watch her, at all, btw)? I do not get that leap.

    Now – I DO get what you are saying about asking about guilt by association. But I wasn’t asking about that either – nor have I said that I think anyone is guilty by association – Obama or otherwise.

    This seriously is something of a style issue – I’ve asked questions many times on other blogs and gotten told that I’m feigning that I don’t know and so on. I’m not. But my telling you that, again, I know, isn’t necessarily going to convince you. I don’t know what else to say on that subject.

    So – where are we? Well, here’s something I can see as an analogy after reading your comment (but I’m not running for office so of course it doesn’t matter so much): my rabbi will not ordain gays as rabbis even though the JTS has given the okay for that. I don’t agree with my rabbi’s stance. Am I leaving my synagogue? No. Am I homophobic? No. So – through that analogy I completely see Obama’s position. Why he keeps getting asked about it and why he keeps responding – I sure don’t have the answer – I just keep getting notices that it’s going on (and except for the one today, I’ve been deleting them – guess maybe I should have done that today too!? – that’s a joke – sort of).

  • Polimom – what you wrote is my understanding as well: “My impression is this entire issue stemmed from an award given via a magazine published and edited by Rev. Wright and his daughters.”

    And as I re-read all these comments and the original articles over and over, well – maybe I am naive/have been naive. It wouldn’t be the first time – won’t be the last. Maybe I’ve done exactly what it was hoped I would do – that’s a sucky feeling – to think at first that I’m asking something I really want to get input on and discover, ooo, uhhh, not so good here.

    On the other hand, if I hadn’t posted this or asked, maybe I would have retained the wrong idea.

    I don’t like that the magazine says that about Farrakhan. I would prefer that it was the preacher and not Obama, to be honest, who came out and said that they’re not anti-semitic. And sure, guilty by association figures in only within any situation’s context – full context.

    But I couldn’t have come to this without these comments. I feel grateful, not guilty. Is that bad?

  • Elrod – I guess I can’t say it’s ridiculous. First of all, there’s nothing wrong in asking these questions and second of all, a lot of people sure were interested in giving answers!

    But now you have me wondering – is Richard Cohen one of those people “who used to complain about all the “schwaaaartzes” in the neighborhood”?!

  • cosmoetica

    Jill: It does not matter to me whether you were seriously demagoguing or slipped into it. The Internet does not convey inflection, etc.

    However, the very post, and asking, as you do within it, ‘Are we okay with this stance?’ is political style rhetoric. I didn’t say it (in so many words) although y’all were smart enough to know what I meant.

    But, style aside, and again, this is simply a bullshit ‘issue.’

  • Well, look – I can see why you say you think it’s a bullshit issue. But I wouldn’t have thought that before I asked the question I did – obviously.

    Other than you believing me versus your gut, I don’t expect that I can’t write anything that will convince you that I didn’t ask if we’re okay with Obama’s response other than to elicit the very comments that indicate – “hell yes his response is not only fine but pretty much unnecessary.”

    As I wrote before, I wanted to elicit how others feel, precisely to help nail something down that I said upfront I didn’t know about. You seem to be having a hard time believing that people don’t see things as clearly as you do – or that someone, like myself, who doesn’t see it clearly, would reach out and ask others, “I don’t see this clearly – how do you see it?”

    Getting a reality check is far preferable to sticking with one’s own echo chamber – I see a blog like the Moderate Voice as exactly the kind of place to get responses anyone can trust. I thought blogs seek to encourage that kind of thing, yes?

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