An Interesting Question
If not a strong debater, Senator Obama clearly has become an adept politician. At the presidential debate of 2/26/08 in Cleveland, Ohio, Obama and co-host Tim Russert participated in a discussion about one of America's premier bigots:
RUSSERT: Senator Obama, one of the things in the campaign is
that you have to react to unexpected developments. On Sunday, the
headline in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune, "Louis Farrakhan
Backs Obama for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago."
Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?
OBAMA: You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of
Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are
unacceptable and reprehensible.
I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an
African-American who seems to be bringing the country together.
I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I
sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or
informally with Minister Farrakhan.
RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?
OBAMA: Well, Tim, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that
he thinks I'm a good guy.
You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and
his past statements. And I think that indicates to the American
people what my stance is on those comments.
RUSSERT: The problem some voters may have is, as you know, the
Reverend Farrakhan called Judaism "gutter religion."
OBAMA: Tim, I think -- I am very familiar with his record, as
are the American people. That's why I have consistently denounced it.
This is not something new. This is something that -- I live in
Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I've been very clear, in terms of me
believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate.
And I have consistently distanced myself from him.
RUSSERT: 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
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?
OBAMA: Tim, I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish
community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign.
And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel's.
I think they are one of our most important allies in the region, and I
think that their security is sacrosanct, and that the United States is
in a special relationship with them, as is true with my relationship
with the Jewish community.
And the reason that I have such strong support is because they
know that not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but
also because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I
consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American
community and the Jewish community.
You know, I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole
host of Jewish Americans, who supported the civil rights movement and
helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. And that
coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part
of my task in this process is making sure that those lines of
communication and understanding are reopened.
But, you know, the reason that I have such strong support in the
Jewish community and have historically -- it was true in my U.S.
Senate campaign and it's true in this presidency -- is because the
people who know me best know that I consistently have not only
befriended the Jewish community, not only have I been strong on
Israel, but, more importantly, I've been willing to speak out even
when it is not comfortable.
When I was -- just last point I would make -- when I was giving
-- had the honor of giving a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in
conjunction with Martin Luther King's birthday in front of a large
African-American audience, I specifically spoke out against anti-
Semitism within the African-American community. And that's what gives
people confidence that I will continue to do that when I'm president
of the United States.
CLINTON: I just want to add something here, because I faced a
similar situation when I ran for the Senate in 2000 in New York. And
in New York, there are more than the two parties, Democratic and
Republican. And one of the parties at that time, the Independence
Patty, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti-
Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support.
I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be
comfortable with. And it looked as though I might pay a price for
that. But I would not be associated with people who said such
inflammatory and untrue charges against either Israel or Jewish people
in our country.
And, you know, I was willing to take that stand, and, you know,
fortunately the people of New York supported me and I won. But at the
time, I thought it was more important to stand on principle and to
reject the kind of conditions that went with support like that.
RUSSERT: Are you suggesting Senator Obama is not standing on
CLINTON: 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.
OBAMA: Tim, I have to say I don't see a difference between
denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from
Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the
word "reject" Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word
"denounce," then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject
CLINTON: Good. Good. Excellent.
WILLIAMS: Rare audience outburst on the agreement over rejecting
and renouncing.Some things stand out for me in this exchange:
1) Obama said he has "been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments;" "would (not) tolerate anti-Semitism in any form;" and paid homage to the critical support for the civil-rights movement among "Jewish-Americans" ("Jewish-Americans"?- Are they anything like "Catholic-Americans" or "Protestant-Americans"?)
2) Obama declared he has "consistently denounced" what he termed "Farrakhan's record" and implied that what the latter "has said is reprehensible and inappropriate." Clinton, instead of specifically challenging Obama to renounced Farrakhan's support, instead foolishly framed the argument as "a difference between denouncing and rejecting," thus enabling Obama, in his condescending yet charming way, to declare "but if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce." We're still waiting (or at least I am) for the Illinois senator to reject Farrakhan's support. That would be an act of political courage.
3) The only important issue: Obama identified Israel as "one of our most important allies in the region." Huh? What is our nation's most important ally in the region?
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