Archives for: July 2012, 20
Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers are not just some over-blown right-wing distractions meant to falsely impugn Obama's integrity as the left would have us believe. Indeed, these folks and their associations with Obama were NOT properly vetted and put to rest after having properly done so by the press.
- T. Paine, Commenting, July 19, 2012
Now that Obama has been in office for a few years, the implications of his association with Wright and Ayers are less important than the actual policies that he clearly supports. We do not have to wonder what he might do, though it is possible that he might change a bit as a second-term President.
Nevertheless, his association with these people was fair game. Since I was not pleased with some of the Republican candidates' religious and political associations, it would be hypocritical for me to deny conservatives the opportunity to scrutinize Obama's connections.
There are two questions to address:
Just how bad were Ayers and Wright?
- To what extent has Obama adopted their beliefs and desires?
While we have good reasons to condemn both Ayers and Wright, we must also acknowledge their convictions and reasons for action. Both men truly believed that our country or government has caused great harm and should change.
Ayers believed that action against the state and its supporters--the "oppressors"--was the duty of those who support the oppressed. To do nothing, he and his group believed, was to be complicit in the oppression. And as he came to believe that peaceful protest had little effect (a way of feeling like one is making a change while actually accomplishing nothing), he began to apply violent measures to lead to change. Given these beliefs, his actions were perfectly reasonable.
Wright believes that racism permeates our country, that we are hypocritical about when when and to whom violence can be applied, that the government created the AIDS virus to kill off black people, etc. He preaches against it. Again: this is perfectly reasonable behavior, given his beliefs.
But for their behavior to be good, their beliefs must be accurate and their desires must be praiseworthy. Since most of us dispute at least some of both their beliefs and desires, we cannot praise their behavior. Unlike Ayers, we do not really desire world communism, so we condemn him even though we might support similar violence in support of some other goal. Unlike Wright, we do not see racism everywhere, so we condemn his fixation even though we might fixate on some other "-ism."
In any case, it is important to note that these men do not desire to harm others for pleasure. They have acted in accordance with their beliefs and desires for a better country or even world.
Any concern regarding their influence on Obama, then, should focus on how he might try to change our way of life--not how he might want to harm us. Back in 2008, one might have asked: Will he work to implement greater entitlements for non-white people or try to divide us racially? Will he seek to impose communistic laws or devote great amounts of resources toward helping oppressed people in other countries even as we suffer at home? Will he allow or even support the spread of terrible ideologies in other lands?
Before the election, we had his voting record, speeches, books, promises about what he would or would not do, and condemnations of both Ayers' violence and Wright's vitriol--all intended to assure us that he had the best intentions and would continue to support the "American way of life" (whatever that is). This was insufficient for conservatives--and perhaps rightfully so. We expect a man who wishes to be President to condemn associations that would hurt him. We still don't know what led him to associate with these people--particularly Wright, whose church he attended regularly--in the first place and to continue to do so. As T.Paine writes, "This strikes me as an association that is hardly prudent or wise in the formation of the character of the man that was to become our president." It is not that Obama was somehow responsible for what these men had done, but that he associated with them despite their actions and convictions.
I would like to hear Obama address this. Even though I was not afraid that these associations would matter--and even though it seems, after a few years of his presidency, that I was right to not be afraid--it would be interesting to learn what drew him to these men, why he persisted with them despite their behavior, what he took away from his experiences with them, and why he did not take away the violence and vitriol. Perhaps I would learn some of the answers if I read his books, but I confess that I have little to no interest in reading books by politicians.
However, T.Paine is mistaken on another matter. He writes:
"If Obama had been the GOP’s candidate for office, I am certain that a far more thorough examination and subsequent disqualification of candidate Obama would have been the inevitable result."
This is accurate only in the sense that the GOP would never elect a liberal. (I will leave T.Paine to speculate on the reasons for choosing Romney over the other candidates.) Republicans disagree with Ayers and Wright on just about everything, so they would naturally reject the sort of person who might be sympathetic to their causes. But similarly, liberals disagree with what some of the Republican candidates' associations have said and done, so it is also the case that people like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann would never have become viable liberal candidates. What is "anti-American" to one party is not necessarily "anti-American" to the other.
Guilt by association tactics are dangerous. Those who use them open themselves up to the same attacks even when they fail to condemn a constituent in a crowd for making some outrageous claim. We can always wonder: Why didn't he distance himself from that comment?
Fortunately, when someone's actions speak for themselves, as Obama's do, we don't need to speculate so much about his associations. If he did take something terrible away from his time with Ayers and Wright, it is irrelevant as long as it does not impact his behavior as President.
Unfortunately, while Romney's actions also speak for themselves, each of them seems to say something different.
Ryan is a frequent and generous contributor. He also writes for his own site, where guilt by association is at a minimum, and behavior is the preferred measure of the content of character.
Please visit Secular Ethics.