Monday, May 5, 2008

Things Aren’t Going To Get Any Better

Let’s see if I can fit everything I want to say today into a reasonably concise post. (Hahahahaha -- did I really say that?)

Two months ago (to the day, in fact -- it was March 5), I wrote that I was tired of the current presidential campaign and wanted it to be over. (Mommy, make it stop.) I feel that way even more now. Even the better political writers seem to have run out of substantive things to say, to say nothing of the candidates themselves, and of course the worse political writers. The corporate media are so deeply mired in the slime they’ve generated that it’s hard to see how they can continue, but with airtime and pages to fill, and vast amounts of money to spend filling it, of course they do. Tomorrow’s the Indiana primary, and I still don’t know whether I’ll vote for a presidential candidate. We just have to go on, comrades, we can’t go on, we’ll go on. And surely you do not want Bush back?

Consider the Jeremiah Wright brouhaha. The corporate media, helped by the Clinton campaign, have made Wright the big political story of the past two weeks. The blogosphere has taken the ball and run with it, the positive result being that white Democratic liberals have let show their discomfort with uppity Negroes, and their sense of entitlement to the White House in 2008. (What counts is not the issues, nor even fielding a good candidate, but only winning. It’s The Only Thing.) Their hysteria has been nicely roasted by the lefty-cynic wing of the blogosphere, with mixed results, including a sometimes condescending praise for Wright and for certain styles of Christianity.

One of the worst of these latter was the usually sensible Michael J. Smith, who lauded a moment from Wright’s appearance before the National Press Club:

The best moment was a question attacking Christianity as such. Somebody had scribbled on a card a debased modern translation of John fourteen-six: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." The questioner added, "Do you believe that?"

Now Jeremiah Wright has been a minister of the Gospel for what, forty years? Did the smart-aleck who shot this feeble bolt really imagine that Wright hadn't fielded this question before?

Actually, I'm sure that's exactly what he or she imagined -- thinking of him- or herself as Clarence Darrow, pinning William Jennings Bryan to the wall with a contradiction in scripture. (There's a movie scene that needs a revisionist treatment, by the way. Over to you, Owen.) The questioner, undoubtedly a merit-class secularist whose Greatest Conceivable Being is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, felt quite sure that any poor fool who reads the Bible, and prays, actually prays -- like Dante and Milton and other such pitiable imbeciles -- couldn't possibly be any match for the smart-alec's superior research skills.

It was wonderful to watch. As the question was read, a slow small smile appeared on Wright's face. When the pinch-faced, brazen-voiced, squinty-eyed, sheep-haired hag who read the questions relinquished the microphone, Wright leaned in and, without missing a beat, cited an earlier chapter of the same gospel, John ten-sixteen: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold."

The crowd went wild -- not the deeply illiterate "working press", of course, but the "guests", mostly black, who had actually read the book.

First off, the first Bible quotation didn’t come from “a debased modern translation”, it came verbatim from the Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version. (Maybe Smith considers the AV debased and reads Scripture in the Vulgate -- I don’t know.) Second, knowing the Bible from back to front doesn’t in itself constitute literacy, though of course ignorance of the Bible doesn’t constitute literacy either. There’s nothing wonderful about Wright’s performance here. Pat Robertson could have been asked the same question and come up with a similar snappy comeback, down to the “slow small smile”, but would Smith have been as charmed by it, or as gleeful when the 700 Club audience went wild?

Finally, there’s the routine netgeek misogyny of “the pinch-faced, brazen-voiced, squinty-eyed, sheep-haired hag who read the questions” and of Smith’s framing device, the medieval lore that beavers, in order to escape hunters, bite off their own testicles. So too, Smith intones, Obama figuratively bit off his balls, by repudiating his mentor and spiritual father to stave off the ravening media. I was about to ask rhetorically how Michelle Obama manages to be so tough without a set of the requisite man-eggs, but never mind -- I can imagine the likely answer.

Jeremiah Wright has declared that the attacks he’s faced are really attacks on the black church. I say bullshit. As long as whites can imagine the black church simply as a set for a production number in a Blues Brothers movie, a place where simple dark-skinned folk sing great rocking gospel music and do handsprings in the aisles by the power of the Holy Spirit, they don’t feel threatened by it. It’s the specific things Wright said (and their usefulness for embarrassing Obama) that drew the attack dogs. A white minister, or a white secularist for that matter, would also be attacked by right-thinking liberals for saying the things Wright has said about American racism and imperialism. Like him, they would be (and have been) accused of egomania, arrogance, and the like. In that sense, it’s true that the attacks on Wright are not personal: they’re the reflexive, one-size-fits-all response of people who don’t know how to think, but who know what they don’t like. But then, Wright’s countermove, waving the black church around as a diversion, is just as dishonest – not that the American media are interested in honest debate to begin with.