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Susan Estrich
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The Speech


It was an eloquent and powerful speech. But Barack Obama's inspirational oratory left one fundamental question unanswered, at least for this white American — although judging by the reactions I've been hearing on local radio, for many others, as well.

A pastor is not a relative. The thing with relatives is we don't choose them. They just are.

Pastors and places of worship don't work that way. You choose where you go. You listen and decide. You're not born into a church, or if you are, you're free as an adult to choose a new location, if not a new faith.

If Barack Obama heard the anger in his pastor's voice, why did he stay?

If he didn't hear the anger, was he not listening?

If he was listening, why didn't he speak up?

The answer, I think, is that he did. Speaking up is what he is doing in running for president. Offering a different approach than his pastor to the injuries of race and class is what his campaign is actually about. But he has to make that connection. There's still a step he needs to take.

It is clear that this church and this pastor have played an important role in Barack Obama's development as a black American. The son of a white mother, raised by white grandparents, the church clearly became a version of the black family he didn't grow up in. The church, and his life inside it, is part of the answer to the question that used to be posed of whether he was black enough, an inartful way of asking whether he understood what it meant to be black, whether he understood the injuries of race.

That is clearly why the church was so important to Obama that even now he views his pastor as the uncle with whom he might disagree, but would never disown.

But if the church taught him about the pain and injuries of race, made clear what it was like to grow up on the wrong side of every line dividing privilege and access from poverty and denial, what it, and its minister, did not teach him was how to deal with those injuries.

His minister's response has been, as all the awful excerpts reveal, tinged with bitterness, anger and resentment. His minister has embraced the very victimization and demonization that Barack Obama, in his speech yesterday and in his campaign at its best, has denounced.

The case for Barack Obama, and ultimately he has to be the one to make it, is that there is a different answer to the injuries of race than the one his pastor offered to their congregation. The answer is not to denounce America, but to embrace it, not to embrace victimization, but to denounce it.

Barack Obama doesn't want to denounce his pastor, his uncle, but in a way, he already has, both by running for president and by the way he has run. He just needs to say that loud and clear, and not because whites want him to, but because his failure to do so obscures a strength of his campaign for which he deserves credit.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



23 Comments | Post Comment
Did you hear the speech Susan? He explained he knew the man for all his deeds good and bad. He went though
a litany of good deeds the pastor has done. He explained that the anger is real and the need to understand the
roots of the anger, and lastly, to move on beyond the anger. His pastor has been unable at this time to move on,
Barack has moved on. The man brought him to christianity, married him and his wife, baptized his children. Like
his grandma spewing racial epithets, he still loves her and his pastor. I think you missed the whole point of the
speech. In a separate matter, please show us some integrity and leave fox news. Like Chris Wallace, you have been influenced and can no longer be counted on to present unbiased opinions. At one time I could not have said that about you.
Comment: #1
Posted by: tyler adams
Wed Mar 19, 2008 2:45 AM
Re: tyler adams

It seems to me you are the biased one here. Susan Estrich is anything but Chris Wallace. She spoke her mind and her truth. Obama made his choice by attending that church which he knew spewed evil, it was his choice. She's right, you're not born into a church, you decide which one to attend. Not good judgement to me on Mr. Obama's part.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Michael Travali
Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:14 AM
On Friday last Obama appearred on Keith Olbermann's show and also on FOX and said that he had never heard Rev. Wright use such inflammatory language in any speech he heard. Four days later he gives the RACE speech and his story changes 180 degrees and he admits to hearing such language.

What troubles me is that Obama's first reaction to tough questions is to LIE. He lied repeatedly about NAFTA-GATE then had to admit the truth. He has lied repeatedly about the amount of money his campaigns got from TONY REZKO and as more evidence comes out has now upped the money total to over 260,000 Repeated Lies
and now lying about this and when he finally realized that Secret Service records would place him in the church, he then changed his story again.
Didn't we just go through seven plus years of a Liar in the White House........isn't that the CHANGE we desparately want in the White House........From a Liar to someone we can TRUST. From a habitual LIAR to another habitual LIAR is not CHANGE.
Forget it , if this guy becomes the nominee, this lifelong Democrat is pulling the straight Republican lever and the local politicians who support this guys nomination should go down with him....take that superdelegates.
Comment: #3
Posted by: robert lipka
Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:26 AM
duh Susan, he just did.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jud
Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:54 AM
Hi Susan,

There are families and then there are families. My mother was Italian and my father was French. I am a white male. I am an American living in the present historical period. I was raised Catholic. The only political party I have ever joined is the Democratic. I could go on and on. These are all factors that are included in any discusions about my roots, and ties and loyalties.

Do I cut off one of my limbs in order to save my body?
Comment: #5
Posted by: robert j therriault
Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:58 AM
"A pastor is not a relative. The thing with relatives is we don't choose them. They just are."

Wake up little Sussie. Test your hypothesis with an adopted child. Family is more complicated than you narrowly and inappropriately define it!

Comment: #6
Posted by: Kwaku Azar
Wed Mar 19, 2008 10:38 AM
Bam Bam needs a new battle rattle - but first help his white mother with the dump where he lets her live. Maybe Mrs Bam Bam can get off her high heels. I have heard better oral arguments from better attorneys - too green for me.
Comment: #7
Posted by: overseas
Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:32 PM
Susan is a staunch Clinton supporter. There is nothing Obama would have said or will say in the future that will change her mind.
Comment: #8
Posted by: mekazee, T
Wed Mar 19, 2008 4:38 PM
You have your head in the sand (or maybe someplace else) Susan. You totally copped out on this one. Amongst the inanity of Obama's were a couple of statements that infuriated this white male. He made references to the Reagan revolution that insinuated that one of the driving forces behind that movement was racism. I categorically refute that statement. It essentially alleges that only a racist could be for welfare reform. I think Obama's fifteen minutes are almost over. He tried to straddle the fence and failed miserably. He refused to repudiate racism that is every bit as offensivee as any white on black racism we have seen in recent memory. He defended a double standard, and you are so afraid of offending black voters that you tried to do the same thing. We will never be color blind in our society until we practice what we preach. By that I mean we must treat every person the same regardless of race, and if that means calling out a black preacher or candidate who is racist, then so be it. We have perpetuated racism by pretending that black people must be babied and pampered. They are every bit as capable as anyone else. When we start treating them exactly like white, hispanic, asian, etc., then we will have a chance. Quit perpetuating this stuff.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Ross
Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:58 PM
Everyone has missed the real point. Over and over again Senator Obama has asserted that he "does not support these comments."
Nothing could be more outrageously and totally undeniably a lie.
For 20 years he has given his tithes and offerings to support the ministry and message of Rev. Wright.
Suppose a Republican had not only not denounced, but continued to attend Klan meetings and contribute openly and directly to David Duke? Could such a person EVER wash his hands and deny the message? Explaining of course that while he doesn't support the Klan, he likes Mr. Duke personally and besides what he was supporting with his money every week was the picnics the Klan occasionally sponsored for the families.
Nationwide, this is not going to fly.
The Prince is a Frog.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Markham E. Peery
Wed Mar 19, 2008 8:34 PM
I have a quick question for the author. Would you demand that a Catholic parishioner reject the church and leave it forever? After all, those pedophile priests were funded in part by the tithes of the candidate, and possibly one of those pedophiles worked in his or her parish.
What would you say to a candidate who attended a church that advocates that gays are sinners, should be shunned as an abomination, that abortions are evil, and that liberals and anti-war activists hate their country. If you disagreed with this candidate's church, must they also reject this church, as you require Sen. Obama.
I could go on in this exercise; what is the answer? Why is there this standard for Obama and not for Catholic candidates, right wing conservative candidates, liberal church goers, etc. The standard seems to be, if we disagree with the Church, the candidate MUST have rejected the CHURCH.
Would you say this would be a wise approach to a country that has avoided, at times unsuccessfully, the nation destroying pograms of the 20th century
Comment: #11
Posted by: Kevin
Wed Mar 19, 2008 10:33 PM
Re: overseas

I am an attorney, have heard literally hundreds of oral arguments and speeches by Attorneys and Justices, and, much to your chagrin, his speech was written and presented with a level of excellence rarely if ever seen since Kennedy and FDR.

Also, your language toward the Senator and his mother is disrespectful, but ignorance cannot be educated.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Kevin
Wed Mar 19, 2008 10:41 PM
Until everyone who claims to be a "christian" denounces the likes of Robertson and Falwell and Buchanan and Coulter, until everyone who claims to be Jewish denounces the Likud, until everyone who claims to have finished high school denounces the phony "science" paid for by oil companies and chemical companies and tobacco companies claiming that "there's no problem" with their products, until everyone who claims to be a conservative denounces the bushdick regime's outrageous spending and bullying cowardice and outright treason, then SHUT THE BLANK UP ABOUT OBAMA NOT DENOUNCING HIS PREACHER. Go throw stones at your own glass houses, you hypocritical closet bigots.

Nothing Reverend Wright said was anywhere NEAR as offensive as the putrid self-aggrandizing hate-mongering lies spewing from talkinghead TV and radio every hour of every day. I hope bushdicks really do believe in the hell and damnation that they keep being so "offended" about, because if they don't manage to start hell (as in WW 3) here on Earth, they are most certainly headed for eternal damnation once they're no longer a threat to the rest of us.

Stand tall, senator. I wouldn't abandon a friend or mentor unless they voted repukelican, and certainly not for telling the truth.

And Estrich, if you and your pasty friends don't "get it," that's because you're self-centered and stupid, not because he's wrong.
Comment: #13
Posted by: The Die Hard
Thu Mar 20, 2008 5:11 AM
The Wright controversy only allows white folk like yourself to legitamize your racism. What happened to the separation of church and state? This separation does not mean state is not discussed in church or church in state, but that the two are separated in their freedoms to be critical of the other. That in church, views can be expressed critical of government without repercussions. Pastor Wright's comments were controversial, but so was dropping the A-bomb, and so was bombing Iraq. I can't think of any more controversial topic than slavery. And until you've experienced being of a color subjected to racism, you'll probably never understand. I know I can't. But I can try. If this is the best America can offer, this skewed racist language by Clinton supporters and Right-wing Republicans, then I second Wright, in both words and tone.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Irishspacemonk
Thu Mar 20, 2008 5:37 AM
Thanks squire kev "forbes". Have you seen where bam bam's white mother lives? That did it for me. Shame on Bam Bam. If he can not step up to the plate for his mom, he is hollow...just like the tin man in the wizard of oz.
Comment: #15
Posted by: overseas
Thu Mar 20, 2008 8:02 AM
I am a Christian and I DON'T agreee with everything my Pastor says, ecspecially if it's not directly biblically based. But I will NOT leave my church, because I have history there. I was baptized there, my daughter was baptized there, and my mother who was a long time drug addict came to know Christ there. So regardless of some comments my pastor may say I will not disown or denounce him. I'm an adult and can think for myself. I don't have to ACCEPT everything someone says. Just like many may not accept what I'm saying now. His Pastor, regardless of what people may say, is a servant of God. I would hate to be a Judas and give my spiritual leader the kiss of death because of the politicians that wanted to crucify him.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Neshka
Thu Mar 20, 2008 10:33 AM
Susan: Obama answered the questions you raised in your article. You just weren't listening. I'll remind you that he said, very directly:
"The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS....As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years."
In light of this, your knee-jerk comment that "'[a] pastor is not a relative" is simply glib and dismissive at best. Perhaps if he had been a Hillary supporter, she would have thrown him under the bus because of politically expediency and because "he wasn't a relative." I'm so glad Barack has more substance and more character than that. Your Hillary bias is showing, Susan. Don't think it isn't evident.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Rick Nelson
Thu Mar 20, 2008 12:56 PM
"...In 2007 alone, Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, earmarked $340 million in taxpayer dollars. Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, earmarked more than $91 million. As recently as last week, both campaigns refused to disclose their full list of earmark requests.
The pressure finally got to Mr. Obama, who released his 2005-06 earmark requests on March 13. His requests include $1 million for a hospital where his wife served as vice president of community and external affairs.
While Mrs. Clinton continues to decline demands that she make her requests public, one nonpartisan watchdog group says the senator landed 360 earmarks from 2002 to 2006. In 2007, Mrs. Clinton admitted to seeking funding for a hippie museum in Bethel, N.Y. Her spokesman has stated flatly that Mrs. Clinton is "very proud" of her earmarks, which cost taxpayers more than $2.2 billion.
Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama received poor marks on the Club for Growth's 2007 report on pork-barrel spending and government waste. Mr. Obama received a score of 33 percent for his votes against anti-pork legislation, while Mrs. Clinton scored even worse: 11 percent. Another group dedicated to protecting tax dollars, Citizens Against Government Waste, echoed the Club for Growth's poor rankings. They gave Mr. Obama a lifetime rating of 22 out of 100. Mrs. Clinton received a lifetime rating of 10 out of 100. In other words, taxpayers beware.
Last week, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama both voted for the Democrats' $3 trillion budget that included the largest tax increase in American history. According to the Associated Press, the budget would raise income taxes "on individuals making as little as $31,850 and couples earning $63,700" to pay for more wasteful spending. "

Then – add to this the additional TAX OB wants to put on Americans to pay for GLOBAL POVERTY! We have poverty here! Why tax us to pay for rulers and dictators who rob their own people and then to use the U.N. to administer it?

Wake up folks – not only did OB lie about his attendance in church, he is selling us down the road! Let's band together and find someone who really will be “FOR THE PEOPLE” not his own pocketbook and ego!
Comment: #18
Posted by: helen sabin
Fri Mar 21, 2008 11:14 AM
Re: Neshka -
Your comparison between your pastor and his words and the words your minister uses are probably totally different. You are trying to compare, apples and oranges. Does your minister say, GOD DAMN AMERICA?" ANd that the US has deliberately infected Blacks with the HIV virus?

YOU are NOT running for President of the US - OB is! You are not a hate monger, but his minister is! Can't you see the difference? If not, then you need to think about the comparison you just made.

Comment: #19
Posted by: helen sabin
Fri Mar 21, 2008 11:17 AM
Re: robert lipka
Thanks for pointing out ALL the inconsistencies that OB puts out! First he lied and then he got caught so he had to quickly put some spin on his lying! NOw address his failings - forget his lack of judgment by not steppin away from his minister's hateful words and for throwing his grandmother under the bus of his ambition - look at what he will do to the economy which is going down! ALL of you will pay through the nose for his wasteful spending!

He doesn't know what budgeting means! He thinks we should support any idea he has whether it helps the US or not!

Have you read his Global Tax Initiative done with Richard Lugar? OB is going to drive us even more into debt with his grandiose idea of solving world poverty - and he is going to have the U.N. -the most corrupt body next to our own congress to administer this program of taxation! Does the money come here to the US? NO!

Here is a short analysis of how dangerous OB really is to our pocket book and country:
"...The legislation would commit the U.S. to spending 0.7 percent of gross national product on foreign aid, which amounts to a phenomenal 13-year total of $845 billion over and above what the U.S. already spends. " OVER AND ABOVE!! ANd he says our economy is in a shambles NOW and yet he is willing to tax us even more?

He also wants to go against our own CONSTITUTION WITH THIS STATEMENT:
In addition to seeking to eradicate poverty, that declaration commits nations to banning "small arms and light weapons" . What happened in Louisiana when guns were confiscated? Criminals had guns! in DC three women were home invaded and for hours tortured and raped because the POLICE wouldn't come when they called. The court says a "Government does not have to defend an individual!" So what do you protect yourself with? A baseball bat?

Did you know that OB's bill which is making its way through congress is modeled after one where have given the RUSSIAN ARMY over 6 billion in CRT onies? The money OB proposes and taxes us for goes to dictators and to the UN - remember the oil for food scandal?

Come on - get some research going and look at ALL opinions about what is going on with OB and HIllary! Even if you don't like Republicans now, you will do so when you are taxed to the hilt! We need someone with FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY to win - and it isn't OB or HIllary!
Comment: #20
Posted by: helen sabin
Fri Mar 21, 2008 11:32 AM
Let's get to the bottom line. The huge problem here is the sermons of Wright are diametrically opposed to what Obama "says" he wants for the country: unity. Ironically, the Wrights of America are what's keeping Obama from realizing his dreams for a truly "united" States of America.
It's the likes of Wright that keeps the racial cesspool boiling. Medved is correct, in my opinion. Obama chose this particular church as a political calculation to win in early elections. Now he runs for POTUS as a racial uniter, another political calculation.
But the message of Wright and the new-found message of Obama are mutually exclusive, revealing Obama as a big, fat phony! The speech itself is a study in contradictions and phoniness. No way does this speech rise to the level of MLK or the Gettysburg Address or any of the lofty American speeches that make it into the history books.
The speech he was forced to give is just another political calculation to cover his recently revealed ass. Go back and read it. The first part is all about him, as if he himself embodies all the racial issues in this country since the beginning. Count how many times he says "I."
Later in the speech, he intones: "We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism or...etc."
Fiddlesticks! Who breeds division, conflict and cynicism more than Wright? Obama even said as much. If Obama's life's work has been to be an agent of change on the racial scene, why wasn't he helping "his people" by loudly challenging Wright as an agent of division?
Why? Because his life's work is to get elected by any means possible by saying anything necessary. With a razor thin resume, we have little to judge this guy on. The Wright fiasco and Barack's politically motivated speech are a good place to start. And stop.
Comment: #21
Posted by: K.G.
Sat Mar 22, 2008 6:34 AM
Contradictory Political Calculations
I listened to the speech Tuesday, but decided to go back reread it just to be fair since the speech itself had been so well received in many quarters. "One for the history books," they are saying. "Most important speech on race since MLK," say others.

"Nonsense," I say. I was too lazy to go thru it and count how many times "I" was in it. However, the first part is all about him, his bi-racial experience, as if he himself embodies the all racial issues that have and do plague the country. The speech, as well as Barack's life, is a study in contradictions to put it politely. Phony is a more accurate if less genteel term.

The most annoying example of phoniness is that Wright contradicts everything Obama claims to stand for re: racial unity. Everything.

Obama self-righteously intones in his speech: "We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism or...etc."

Call me stupid, but what "politics" breed division, (unless it's the politics of racial preferences?) The laws are in place to protect the rights of every American. That part is done. Most whites are bending over backwards, walking on egg shells in an effort not to offend.

So, who is keeping the pot boiling? Uh, maybe the likes of Rev. Wright and others who have a cynical personal interest in maintaining the racial "industry."

If Obama has spent his life striving for racial unity, could he not see that Wright is unity's and racial reconciliation's worse enemy? If we are to take Obama at his word, Wright is the biggest stumbling block of Obama's supposed hopes and dreams for the nation.

. Attending the church was a political calculation. As so is his new-found unity message. The fact that they are diametrically opposed should, and I hope will, defeat him in the general election.

Comment: #22
Posted by: K.G.
Sat Mar 22, 2008 6:40 AM
This is in response to comments 10 and 15 in which a writer using the handle "overseas" refers to a person who is called "Bam Bam" and recommends that Bam Bam should, "...first help his white mother with the dump where he lets her live." I assume that "Bam Bam" is the writer's insulting way of referring to Sen. Obama. If so, let me offer a relevant point of information: Senator Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, died of cancer on November 7, 1995. (see
Comment: #23
Posted by: Lancelot Fletcher
Sun Mar 23, 2008 5:38 AM
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