Commentary Magazine


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In Defense of Hillary

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.