(updated below - Update II)
Ross Douthat and Ezra Klein are arguing about whether Jeremiah Wright's statements are comparable to those of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and John Hagee's. To argue that they're not comparable, Douthat -- like most people commenting on this raging controversy -- conflates two entirely separate analytical issues:
(1) Given their close and long-standing personal relationship, does Wright merit more scrutiny vis-a-vis Obama than white, radical evangelical ministers merit vis-a-vis Republican politicians? and,
(2) Are the statements of white evangelical ministers subjected to the same standards of judgment as those being applied to Wright's statements?
Even if the answer to (1) is "yes," that doesn't change the fact that the answer to (2) is a resounding "no."
The statement of Wright's which seems to be causing the most upset -- and it's one of two singled out by Douthat -- is his suggestion that there is a causal link between (a) America's constant bombings of and other interference with Middle Eastern countries and (b) the willingness of some Middle Eastern fanatics to attack the U.S. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, we've been told that positing any such causal connection is a sign of vicious anti-Americanism and that all decent people find such questions despicable. This week we learned that no respectable person would subject his children to a pastor who espouses such hateful ideas.
But the idea that America deserves terrorist attacks and other horrendous disasters has long been a frequently expressed view among the faction of white evangelical ministers to whom the Republican Party is most inextricably linked. Neither Jerry Falwell nor Pat Robertson ever retracted or denounced their view that America provoked the 9/11 attacks by doing things to anger God. John Hagee continues to believe that the City of New Orleans got what it deserved when Katrina drowned its residents and devastated the lives of thousands of Americans. And James Inhofe -- who happens to still be a Republican U.S. Senator -- blamed America for the 9/11 attacks by arguing in a 2002 Senate floor speech that "the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America" because we pressured Israel to give away parts of the West Bank.
The phrases "anti-American" and "America-haters" are among the most barren and manipulative in our entire political lexicon, but whatever they happen to mean on any given day, they easily encompass people who believe that the U.S. deserved the 9/11 attacks, devastating hurricanes and the like. Yet when are people like Falwell, Robertson, Hagee, Inhofe and other white Christian radicals ever described as anti-American or America-hating extremists? Never -- because white Christian evangelicals who tie themselves to the political Right are intrinsically patriotic. Does Douthat believe that those individuals are anti-American radicals and that people who allow their children to belong to their churches are exercising grave errors of judgment?
Those advancing the argument of Douthat's are also wildly understating the magnitude of the association between "anti-American" white evangelicals and Republican leaders. By all accounts, George Bush had private conversations with Pat Robertson about matters as weighty as whether to invade Iraq. Isn't that a big scandal -- that the President is consulting with an American-hating minister -- someone who believes God allowed the 9/11 attacks as punishment for our evil country -- about vital foreign policy decisions? No, it wasn't controversial at all.
John Hagee privately visits with the highest level Middle East officials in the White House and afterwards pronounces that they're in agreement. John McCain shares a stage with Hagee and lavishes him with praise, as Rudy Giuliani did with Pat Robertson. James Inhofe remains a member in good standing in the GOP Senate Caucus. The Republican Party has tied itself at the hip to a whole slew of "anti-American extremists" -- people who believe that the U.S. provoked the 9/11 attacks because God wants to punish us for the evil, wicked nation we've become -- and yet there is virtual silence about these associations.
Nor have the views of televangelist Rod Parsley, one of McCain's self-proclaimed "spiritual advisers," received a fraction of the attention generated by Wright. As both David Corn and Alan Colmes, among others, have documented, Parsley espouses views at least as extreme and radical as Wright, including his proclamation that "America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed." Unlike Wright and Obama -- for whom the former's controversial views are found nowhere near the latter's public or private conduct -- both George Bush and John McCain's Middle Eastern militarism are perfectly consonant with the most maniacal and crazed views of Christian Rapture enthusiasts such as Hagee, Parsley, Inhofe, and Robertson. Yet the controversy created over their close ties is virtually non-existent.
The Republican Party long ago adopted as a central strategy aligning itself with, and granting great influence to, the most radical, "America-hating" white evangelical Christian ministers in the country. They're given a complete pass on that because political orthodoxy mandates that white evangelical Christian ministers are inherently worthy of respect, no matter how extreme and noxious are their views. That orthodoxy stands in stark contrast to the universally enraged reaction to a few selected snippets from the angry rantings of a black Christian Minister. What accounts for that glaring disparity?
UPDATE: Steve M. notes that the Bush White House, in addition to consulting with Robertson, also consulted with the anti-American Jerry Falwell, including on the question of whom the administration should nominate to the Supreme Court. It even appointed a White House liaison for Falwell. When Falwell died, President Bush "said he was deeply saddened by Falwell's death, calling him 'a man who cherished faith, family and freedom.'"
Shouldn't we be very concerned about American children hearing our President praise an American-hating radical who believes that our country is a sick and wicked land that God wanted to be victimized by the 9/11 attacks? Again, the issue here is number (2) above, not number (1).
UPDATE II: Frank Schaeffer, son of highly influential Religious Right figure Francis Schaeffer, writes (h/t FPL-Dan):
When Senator Obama's preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father -- Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer -- denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.
He goes on to chronicle his father's long history of extreme "America-hating" statements, ones which never caused Republicans to repudiate him, and says: "Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father's footsteps) rail against America's sins from tens of thousands of pulpits."
Yet Schaeffer, like hordes of similar, America-hating white Christian ministers, are celebrated as cherished figures among the very same right-wing faction feigning such outrage and offense over Wright's far more mild statements. White, right-wing Christian evangelical rage against America is understandable, respectable, and noble. Liberal black Christian anger towards America is scary, subversive, and despicable.