Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama On Farrakhan


I didn't watch the debate, but I see that there are any number of criticisms of Obama for not being quick enough to "renounce" Farrakhan's support as opposed to merely "denouncing" Farrakhan's positions on the issues. This is being framed  by  some as a great failure by Obama and a missed opportunity by Clinton. As if Obama was deliberately avoiding rejecting the Farrakhan endorsement and the... what, three votes it might bring to his campaign?

Let's look at some definitions:

Denounce: to pronounce especially publicly to be blameworthy or evil (they denounced him as a bigot)

Reject: to refuse to accept, consider, submit to, take for some purpose, or use (rejected the suggestion) (reject a manuscript) b: to refuse to hear, receive, or admit : rebuff, repel (parents who reject their children) c: to refuse as lover or spouse

Personally, I would much rather be rejected than denounced, particularly by a presidential candidate on national television.

I suspect that Obama either believed that his statements denouncing Farrakhan's positions, and decrying them as "unacceptable and reprehensible", was responsive to the question. Who, after listening to that answer, would think, "Obama thinks Farrakan's beliefs are blameworthy (perhaps evil), reprehensible and unnacceptable. But he wants Farrakhan's endorsement." Well, Ann Althouse for one, and possibly Andrew Sullivan.

The follow-up answer boils down to, "This is America, and I can't stop him from endorsing me if he wants to." Althouse imagines this as an exceedingly clever evasion. I see it as Obama not quite grasping that Russert didn't accept his prior answer as it was intended. Whether that would make Obama a bit thick-headed or Russert a big thick-headed is a debate I won't enter at this time. But let me say, there have been a couple of occasions where I found myself being that thick-headed when examining a witness at a trial or deposition and misinterpreting their answers based upon what I expected to hear.

So on it goes, with Obama repeating his denunciation of Farrakhan's position and deeming his past statements "reprehensible and inappropriate". Althouse seems impressed that Russert then shifted into Gotcha mode - an "I see that you danced with a man, who danced with a girl, who danced with the Prince of Wales"-type question.

The title of one of your books, "Audacity of Hope," you acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the head of the Trinity United Church. He said that Louis Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness."

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to visit with Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents found out about that, quote, "your Jewish support would dry up quicker than a snowball in Hell."

RUSSERT: What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

If somebody is being thick-headed at this point, it's Russert. Which of the words "denounce," "reprehensible", "inappropriate", and "unacceptable" aren't in his vocabulary?

And again, it goes on and on.

Hillary Clinton, who caught Russert's use of the word reject, ultimately joins the exchange, after Russert lobs her a softball, "Are you suggesting Senator Obama is not standing on principle?" She replied,

No. I'm just saying that you asked specifically if he would reject it. And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory - I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching.

Althouse sees this as a tremendous lapse on Clinton's part - "near gibberish" that shows she "does not have the instinct for blood". Um... right....

Personally, I think Clinton called it as she saw it. She, along with anybody with half a brain, knows that Obama doesn't want or need Farrakhan's endorsement. So she gave an honest answer instead of distorting his comments as a twisted effort to maintain Farrakhan's useless... no, worse than useless... counter-productive endorsement. This led to Obama's clarification that " I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce." Something I think was pretty clear from the start of the entire useless exchange.

I suspect that if Hillary Clinton had actually tried to depict Obama as wanting Farrakhan's support, and the three or so votes it would bring to his campaign (even as it drove away thousands upon thousands of others), she would have looked petty and small.

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Update: From his new home at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison observes,

Ross keeps asking how the Republicans are going to attack Obama. Well, they will do something rather like this (dated 2/25). Of course, flinging the charge of anti-Semitism or of being in league with anti-Semites is the last resort of the unimaginative and intellectually bankrupt. That doesn’t mean it won’t have its intended effect.

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