Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Context Matters

Jeremiah Wright has been a pastor in an African-American community church for more than 30 years. One person after another, Barack Obama among them, has come forward to testify that Pastor Wright has been of great spiritual help to them. There is no question that this man has provided secular, emotional and spiritual comfort to thousands. He has preached at least 1500 sermons which undoubtedly have totaled more than 90,000 minutes of speaking.

But based on less than one minute of YouTube video the world knows him as a hate-filled, evil man.

What we have seen, however, is not just one minute of video. What we have seen and heard is one minute of video played and talked about endlessly by the media in press, radio and television. In each program where they are “analyzing the effect that Pastor Wright might have on the campaign” they not only play that video, they play it in a loop which repeats it continuously in the background.

We do not have the faintest idea who Pastor Wright is. We only know who the media has painted him to be.

In similar vein, Barack Obama has brought an astonishing number of new voters into the Democratic Party. He has connected with young people in a way that has not happened in this country since Robert Kennedy. He has stirred an enthusiasm for the electoral process that I have not seen in decades. How many of the politicians of my generation have said publicly that “it was my children who persuaded me” to endorse Obama?

Obama has spoken millions of words in thousands of venues for more than a year; words that have stirred and excited voters and brought Obama from dark horse to front runner in a national campaign, but now the media fastens on twenty seconds of poor quality audio to put on their endless loop and evaluate endlessly.

Obama is now what that twenty-second sound bite says he is.

We read from someone who was in the room when those words were spoken, however, that those words did not have the tenor that Obama’s opponents and the media are imparting to them.

David Coleman, writing at The Huffington Post, was at the gathering where Obama spoke. You can read what he writes in full, and I urge you to do so, but the crux of the story is (emphasis added by me),
…a questioner asked, "some of us are going to Pennsylvania to campaign for you. What should we be telling the voters we encounter?"

Obama's response to the questioner was that there are many, many different sections in Pennsylvania comprised of a range of racial, geographic, class, and economic groupings from Appalachia to Philadelphia. So there was not one thing to say to such diverse constituencies in Pennsylvania. But having said that, Obama went on say that his campaign staff in Pennsylvania could provide the questioner (an imminent Pennsylvania volunteer) with all the talking points he needed. But Obama cautioned that such talking points were really not what should be stressed with Pennsylvania voters.

Instead he urged the volunteer to tell Pennsylvania voters he encountered that Obama's campaign is about something more than programs and talking points. It was at this point that Obama began to talk about addressing the bitter feelings that many in some rural communities in Pennsylvania have about being brushed aside in the wake of the global economy.

When Obama speaks the words I’ve emphasized, does that sound like he has contempt for or is looking down on the people of Pennsylvania?

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