Richard Cohen has a particularly nasty column today in which he demands that Barack Obama make some kind of public repudiation of Louis Farrakhan. I suppose it’s always a worthwhile venture to say something nasty about anti-Semites, but normally there is some catalyzing event that warrants it…like the anti-Semite says something anti-Semitic, for example. Farrakhan hasn’t mouthed off recently, so that isn’t Cohen’s problem. Cohen’s problem is that Barack Obama’s church has a magazine. And that magazine issues an annual award in the name of Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright’s daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said “truly epitomized greatness.” That man is Louis Farrakhan.
Now, Louis Farrakhan is a complex man and his career shouldn’t be whittled down to his anti-Semitism, as if that horrible characteristic fully negates everything else he has ever done. But his anti-Semitism, which is really beyond debate, should preclude him from winning awards for his “depth of analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation.” I agree with Cohen about that. What I don’t agree with is that it is a worthwhile use of Cohen’s highly coveted Washington Post editorial space to inject this non-controversy into the debate. Cohen surely knows that Barack Obama has no desire to repudiate his own pastor. Obama has already acknowledged that he and his pastor have some differences of opinion. And Cohen already extracted a disavowal of Farrakhan from Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod. But that doesn’t slow Cohen down.
It’s important to state right off that nothing in Obama’s record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan. Instead, as Obama’s top campaign aide, David Axelrod, points out, Obama often has said that he and his minister sometimes disagree. Farrakhan, Axelrod told me, is one of those instances.
Fine. But where I differ with Axelrod and, I assume, Obama is that praise for an anti-Semitic demagogue is not a minor difference or an intrachurch issue. The Obama camp takes the view that its candidate, now that he has been told about the award, is under no obligation to speak out on the Farrakhan matter. It was not Obama’s church that made the award but a magazine. This is a distinction without much of a difference. And given who the parishioner is, the obligation to speak out is all the greater. He could be the next American president. Where is his sense of outrage?
It’s not enough for Obama to distance himself from Farrakhan and his own pastor, Cohen demands that he show ‘outrage’ over an award in a magazine. Forgive me if I think this is taking things rather too far. It isn’t like Barack Obama campaigned at Bob Jones University or held a rally with some anti-Semitic group. Respect for the private nature of Obama’s relationship with his pastor should argue in favor of providing a measure of slack in this instance.
But let me be honest. It appears this is the season to turn Barack Obama into a genuine black man. Richard Cohen seems to me to be engaging in the effort with Clintonian gusto. He wants to tie Farrakhan around Obama’s neck ‘by any means necessary’. Let Obama denounce one of Chicago’s most powerful religious figures, or let him not. Either way, Cohen has injected race and controversy into the campaign, and not for a genuinely honorable purpose.