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The Wrong Stuff

Why the left defends Rev. Wright.

12:00 AM, Apr 29, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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THE JEREMIAH WRIGHT IMBROGLIO PROBABLY would have thrown even the most capable political movement for a loop. But the left's reaction to the still continuing crisis has drifted into high comedy. With one full-throated political primal scream, Obama defenders will insist that Reverend Wright doesn't matter, and suggest that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos should be drummed out of the punditocracy for wasting precious debate time on such a frivolous distraction. Yet with the next breath, Obama supporters will champion Jeremiah Wright, noting his supreme form of patriotism (as David Gergen did) or comparing him to Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King as numerous prominent bloggers have.

Obviously lost in the emotion of the political moment, the people making the latter case don't see that they're contradicting their earlier stance that Reverend Wright doesn't matter. By defending him, they implicitly concede that he matters. By defending him in such an over-the-top manner, they suggest that Obama should be embracing his connection with this angrily verbose hero among us rather than seeking distance from him.

Of course, even at the farthest reaches of the left, the denizens probably understand that Reverend Wright's rhetoric is a political loser. If a crude political calculus is too vulgar an exercise for the Obama supporting masses, there's also the fact that Wright's rhetoric is unspeakably ugly. So, it's worth asking, why do so many on the left feel the need to defend Wright when the proper political move would be to dismiss him as irrelevant and the proper moral move would be to decry his offensive comments?

In my ongoing effort to help WEEKLY STANDARD readers better understand the modern left, I'll offer a few theories:

1. THE FIGHTING NETROOTS! -- I bore witness when the Netroots became an influential political force. One of their distinguishing characteristics is to greet every challenge from the right as if it is of Biblical significance. Thus, the rather small potatoes issue of whether John Edwards should have retained his potty-mouthed bloggers became a virtual World War III for the progressive blogging community. It's important to remember that the Netroots came into being as an opposition movement. Their founding charter basically demanded that they oppose everything the right did, said, or thought.

Old habits die hard. Because the right will make an issue of Jeremiah Wright, the left feels the need to defend him. This is the kind of reactive politics they often practice. Even though there's nothing to be gained for them in defending Jeremiah Wright, they just can't help themselves.

2. THE KITCHEN SINK TENDENCY -- Over the last few years, the left has thrown everything it can think of at its political foes. Sometimes, their attacks are contradictory, but that seldom slows them down. Think about it--on some days the left dismisses George W. Bush as a moron. The next day, the very same critics may well posit that Bush is a conspiratorial genius, a fellow who effortlessly seized control of the government and now craftily manipulates its levers to benefit his friends at Big Oil, Halliburton, Blackwater, and the Carlyle Group. If Bush's critics have noticed that these lines of argument contradict each other, such awareness hasn't slowed them down.

The kitchen sink strategy is fine if you're blogging or hosting a poorly watched news show on an obscure cable channel. But campaigns need to stay on message, and determining the message has to be a matter of some precision. By trotting out contradictory defenses/explanations for Jeremiah Wright, the left will undermine its own intentions.

3. NOW A MATTER OF SOME SENSITIVITY -- In some quarters of the left, even Reverend Wright's most hysterical pronouncements fail to register shock. Indeed, proclamations such as, "What we are doing is the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different color flag," almost certainly trigger a chorus of approving "Harrumphs" in faculty lounges across the land. At Hollywood soirees, stars are probably heaving an enormous sigh of relief that someone has finally found the courage to speak truth to power.

Of course, most people in America find Wright's comments repugnant. Obama's efforts to distance himself from Wright and his labeling Wright's comments offensive provide evidence that Wright and his baggage are a political loser. But some on the left like Wright and his baggage. Reverend Wright's moment in the media spotlight has given his fellow believers an occasion to rally around their strange flag.