Finally, something John McCain and Barack Obama have in common: pastor problems. In the last week, both men have been subject to well-deserved criticism over statements — patterns of statements, really; ideologies, you might say — by religious figures with whom they are associated.
First McCain trumpeted an endorsement by megachurch pastor John Hagee, then quickly had to distance himself from Hagee's bigoted and otherwise crazy beliefs. Then McCain declared that one of his "spiritual guides" is megachurch pastor Rod Parsely, whose beliefs are arguably more crazy than Hagee's and come tinged with what can only be called bloodlust. Meanwhile, Obama came under fire after video surfaced of his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, preaching wild-eyed, racially-charged anti-American rhetoric.
Some pundits and bloggers have been quick to draw parallels, arguing that in essence that these are two equivalent situations that cancel each other out. But there is actually a very important distinction between Obama's situation and McCain's. Without excusing or forgiving the statements of any of these blowhards — the candidates can't do enough repudiating and disassociating for my taste — McCain comes out of this mess smelling much worse than Obama.
In a way that's counterintuitive, since Obama has a long and personal relationship with Wright, while McCain barely even knows Parsley and Hagee. But that's actually why Obama's situation bothers me less. When Obama says that Wright "is like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," I tend to believe him. Yes, I wish he'd kick his uncle out of the family, but it makes sense that there are deeper connections between the men that have nothing to do with Wright's radical views. Out of loyalty and affection, Obama is on some level obliged to stick with his genuine spiritual guide even when they
Certainly no one thinks that Obama wants Wright by his side because of what the pastor preaches about politics. Even if Wright's opinions appealed to most black Americans (and I don't believe they do), that's hardly a demographic Obama — who has already carried up to 90 percent of the black vote in the primaries — needs to energize at the risk of alienating the rest of the country. John McCain, on the other hand, has quite clearly sought out Hagee and Parsley precisely because of their radical views. He wants to win over the demographic that these men speak to, and while he may personally and genuinely disagree with some of what Hagee and Parsley stand for, he can not plausibly claim to have sought their endorsements for any other reason. Obama has a pastor who says outrageous things. McCain intentionally went looking for pastors who say outrageous things. For Obama, the nuttiness is an unfortunate distraction; for McCain, it's the whole point.