Big weekend news

Democrats find their Florida-Michigan compromise, but Barack Obama is looking for a new church.

Published June 1, 2008 3:44PM (EDT)

Walter Shapiro did a great wrap of the way the Democratic National Committee resolved the Florida and Michigan crisis Saturday night. Clinton supporters are still disturbed that the Rules and Bylaws Committee awarded "uncommitted" Michigan delegates to Obama, given that other Democrats besides Obama took their names off the Michigan ballot and presumably accounted for some of that "uncommitted" support.

But since the compromise broke the supposed "rules" established to punish Florida and Michigan for jumping their primaries into January, it's hard for me to say one rule-breaking is more disturbing than another. I think a compromise is by definition an imperfect solution that leaves all parties a little bit unhappy. This fascinating AP story listed all of the ways the Clinton campaign was outmaneuvered by Obama over the long primary and caucus season; the four delegates she lost as a result of the Michigan compromise seems insignificant by comparison.)

The other big news Saturday, of course, was Barack Obama's decision to announce his resignation from Trinity United Church of Christ. I honestly don't know what to make of it. I chose not to write about Father Michael Pfleger's reprehensible remarks about Hillary Clinton at Trinity last Sunday, because I felt that the ravings of a guest preacher, even one who's a longtime friend and advisor to Obama, just didn't seem as relevant as those of his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But now, after days of cable news coverage of Pfleger's performance, Obama has decided to leave the church, and I'm not entirely sure why.

In remarks to reporters at a hastily called press conference in South Dakota Saturday night, Obama seemed irritated, maybe understandably, by the ongoing controversy. "It's clear that now that I'm a candidate for president, every time that something is said in the church by anyone associated with Trinity, including guest pastors, the remarks will be imputed to me even if they totally conflict with my long-held views, statements and principles," he said.

I have never believed Obama shared the divisive views of Wright, and I can't imagine he did anything but cringe when he saw the video of Pfleger mocking Clinton. In a week when the Pew poll found Obama's support dropping among white women, it was not great timing to have an Obama friend and supporter cruelly mock Clinton (while the crowd roared with laughter), as a crying woman suffering from "white entitlement," wailing in a falsetto "I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show! Waaaaaaah!" The cause of racial justice won't be advanced by merely exchanging one group's right to hold nasty racial stereotypes for another's. Clinton is running for president for many reasons, but it's gratuitous racial demonization to say "white entitlement" is chief among them. (The fact that Pfleger is himself white just made the whole thing more creepy.)

But Obama's decision to leave his church of 20 years just two months after his Philadelphia speech on race, in which he said he wouldn't, was a little confusing. Has Trinity changed? Obama doesn't say that. Either he attended the church for 20 years and knew that gratuitous anti-white rhetoric was accepted there, and didn't care until he was running for president, or his church affiliation was mainly a political one and he wasn't paying much attention. Neither explanation is appealing, and I’m not sure how this plays out. The Obama supporter who broke the story, Chicago journalist Monroe Anderson, expressed some disappointment with Obama's decision, asking whether he "wimped out," fearing attacks from the right in the general election. But Obama's resignation from Trinity is unlikely to shut up his critics on the right.

Meanwhile, Obama is looking for a new church, and it's hard not to have sympathy for the bind he's in. "I am not going to approach it with the view of figuring out how to avoid political problems," he told reporters, admirably, in Aberdeen. "That’s not the role of church. My -- again what I want to do in church is I want to be able to take Michelle and my girls, sit in a pew quietly, hopefully get some nice music, some good reflection, praise God, thank Him for all of the blessings He has given our family, put some money in the collection plate, maybe afterwards go out and grab some brunch, have my girls go to Sunday school. That’s what I am looking for."

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections