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by Alexander Cockburn

Wright and the Right

In Queens last week, a judge ruled that the cops who turned young Sean Bell into a sieve on his wedding day were filled with most understandable apprehension, though Bell turned out to be unarmed. As usual, the cops walk, and sometime later, the victim's family may get a settlement from the city. The important thing is that justice is seen not to have been done. Power needs the periodic buttress of irrational, uniformed violence.

After Judge Anthony Cooperman let Bells' killer go free a week ago, the crowds protesting in Queens were orderly, as instructed by an African American. "We're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down," Barack Obama said when asked about the case by reporters in Indiana. "Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and is counterproductive."

Spoken like a graduate of Harvard Law School! In fact, Obama's white rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, put more juice into her press release: "This tragedy has deeply saddened New Yorkers -- and all Americans. My thoughts are with Nicole and her children and the rest of Sean's family during this difficult time. The court has given its verdict, and now we await the conclusion of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation."

Obama is now well advanced along the path of reassurance, where each candidate nearing the White House makes clear his or her fidelity to the standard of irrational violence. As with McCain and Clinton, Obama has affirmed his willingness to wipe out America's enemies with nuclear bombs and missiles, though he draws some rebukes for saying he was not in favor of nuking the Hindu Kush, thus casting a disquieting flicker of reason across the path of reassurance.

He is half white, but since he is black in appearance -- and in such matters appearance counts for everything -- Obama has dealt with the pigmentation problem by declaring that race is no longer a troubling factor in America and should be low on the fix-it list of any incoming president.

In Selma, Ala., he declared that blacks "have already come 90 percent of the way" to equality. Indeed he's already issued white America a loss damage waiver. "If I lose, it would not be because of race. It would be because of mistakes I made along the campaign trail."

Actually, if Obama loses, he will probably ascribe it privately to a mistake he made 20 years ago, stepping into the Rev Jeremiah Wright's tumultuous church in Chicago instead of praying sedately in some dour white Presbyterian chapel. Obama thought he'd dealt with the Wright problem by delivering a tasteful speech about race in Philadelphia in late March in which he said the fiery pastor was anchored in the divisiveness of the past.

Wright came bounding back last weekend with an unflinching interview with Bill Moyers on TV and a rip-roaring sermon in the National Press Club in Washington. He's clearly the most powerful public orator in America since Martin Luther King, and as radical as MLK in his toughest moments. People have puzzled about Wright's timing, which from Obama's point of view could not have been worse. I'd bet that there was no plan. In the press club, Wright felt the wind at his back and gave the folks his basic sermon. It's the way he is, and 95 percent of it makes total sense and is a breath of fresh air, as Wright ushers the Real America onto the stage, as opposed to the political candidates' flattering fictions.

But of course, all this week, Obama has been in despair. Now he expels Wright from his life. He derides the man who presided at his wedding. "Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems."

Has Wright really cost Obama the presidency? I doubt it. There are Americans who will never vote for Obama because he looks like a black man, whether or not his hue is darkened by Wright's shadow. There are Americans reminded by Wright that whatever Obama may say, there are still a lot of angry black people. But particularly this week, these Americans have seen that Obama isn't angry and doesn't want to demand reparations for slavery and justice for Sean Bell. He and Wright are in opposite corners of the ring. That could help Obama, having a black man as well as whites to run against.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   April 28, 2008   (

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