Skip to comments.Obama's World-Part I one of a 3-part series exploring Obama’s dubious allies in Chicago
Posted on 05/07/2008 5:03:08 AM PDT by SJackson
Until recently, Barack Obama's presidential campaign was premised on the future. The senator from Illinois orated floridly about bringing "change" to the country; a New Political Man, he pledged to soothe the feuds of old and usher in a national reconciliation amid troubled times. With the emergence of divisive figures like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime friend and acerbically Afro-centric pastor, the focus has shifted to the past, and with good reason. As FrontPageMag.com senior editor Jacob Laksin discovered in his recent reporting from Chicago's South Side, the predominantly black community where Obama launched his political career in the eighties and nineties, Wright may be the best known of Obama's friends and allies, but he may not even be the most controversial. In a series that will appear in FrontPage over the next three days, Laksin explores Obama's ties to the South Side personalities who helped propel him to power, but whose continuing and reciprocated friendship with the candidate raises troubling questions about his ability to forge a new political consensus, especially on the fractious issue of race. To evaluate Obama's campaign and its grand promises, readers must first come to know the world of Chicago politics from which he emerged. -- The Editors
CHICAGO Barack Obamas years as a community organizer in Chicago are at once the most well-known and the least well-understood facet of his biography. It is common knowledge that the Democratic candidate got his start in politics on the citys predominantly black South Side. Yet the people who surrounded him in those days, and who ultimately would propel him to higher office, remain a mystery.
It follows that to evaluate Obamas campaign, and particularly its grand promises to transcend racial and partisan divides, it is first necessary to examine the community that Obama cites as his great education on race. And to do that, one must get to know those figures who not only were instrumental in Obamas rise but who have remained fervent supporters of his campaign and who, in turn, enjoy Obamas continued support.
One must begin with men like Father Michael Pfleger.
During a Good Friday service this March, Fr. Pfleger, a pastor at St. Sabinas church on Chicagos South Side, bounded up to the pulpit and launched into a scathing sermon against the stupid people.
Despite the setting, Fr. Pfleger was not talking about those who had strayed from God. The targets of his scorn, rather, were those in the media Pfleger singled out FOXs Bill OReilly and MSNBC for special opprobrium who had dared to cast a critical eye on a local prophet, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
That Pfleger would commit his church to a full-throated defense of the controversial preacher was no coincidence. For Fr. Pfleger and Rev. Wright share more than a zip code. In the tightly knit world of Chicagos South Side, where churches dot nearly every street, Pfleger and Wright are close friends and political allies. And while Pfleger is white, he is in every other sense the mirror image of Rev. Wright. Father Pfleger is the only black man I know in a white mans body, observes one Chicago pastor.
But Pfleger is not simply a white man heading a black congregation. He also is a devout preacher of the reigning catechism of the citys South Side. It is an ethos of perpetual disenfranchisement that surpasses class barriers, and which holds that America, now as in the era of Jim Crow, is a fundamentally oppressive nation, especially toward its black citizens.
The fact that Pfleger also is a longtime friend of Barack Obama underscores just how omnipresent this ethos was in the formative years of Obamas political career. And it casts fresh doubt on Obamas assurance that his roots in Chicagos black community make him the ideal candidate to chart a new course in racial relations.
St. Sabina advertises its politics on its door, literally: A blue poster on the rectory door proclaims, We oppose war! Inside St. Sabinas cathedral, one finds red, green, and black flags the colors of black nationalism. In this respect the church, the largest black Catholic church and school in the Chicago archdiocese, is very much a vehicle for the political passions of Fr. Pfleger.
Although the idea of a white preacher as an apostle of Afrocentrism seems unusual, it is very much the product of Chicagos distinctive history. At the beginning of the last century, the citys South Side was home to European immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy, and especially Ireland. In the 1930s, nearly a quarter of the Auburn Gresham, the community where St. Sabinas is located, were Irish. When the descendants of these residents moved out to the suburbs in the 1960s, they took their churches with them. So dramatic was the demographic shift that, by 2000, Auburn Gresham was 98 percent black. Among the few who church leaders who remained were those most active in the civil-rights movement, who stayed behind to minister to the South Sides new black residents.
Fr. Pfleger is very much a throwback to that time. One can hear it in the stridency of his sermons, which he delivers with a barking staccato that makes him sound like a prize-fight announcer. One can see it, as well, in the appeals he sometimes writes to his parishioners, which he signs with the now-quaint idiom of a New Left activist (In the Pursuit of Justice) and in the fire-and-brimstone zeal that sometimes crosses the line from provocation into outright belligerence. Even some of Fr. Pflegers supporters were discomfited when, during a May 2007 anti-gun rally at Chucks Gun Shop in Riverdale, Illinois, Pfleger issued the following threat to the stores owner, John Riggio: Were gonna find you and snuff youth out. Characteristic of his no-holds-barred style, Pfleger remains unapologetic about the incident.
Above all, Fr. Pflegers radicalism is evident in the people that he has welcomed at St. Sabina. Prominent among them is Pfleger's friend and Barack Obamas spiritual advisor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Outside of Chicagos South Side, Wright, now notorious for his God damn America sermon, is an embarrassment and a race-baiting demagogue. But for Pfleger, as for much of Chicagos South Side, he remains a revered icon.
The idea that this preaching is divisive is absolutely ridiculous, Pfleger has said of the controversy around Wright. For most, Wrights claim that the U.S. government invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color is a loathsome calumny. For Pfleger, such racially fraught rhetorical warfare is all part of the job. As he has put it: The job of pastor is to shepherd his or her congregation, and that requires speaking to your congregants in the language and context they understand.
Unsurprisingly, Pfleger often invokes similar themes. Echoing Wright, he calls racism Americas addiction. Taking a cue from racial huckster Al Sharpton, a former guest at St. Sabina, Pfleger has waged campaigns against everyone from elementary school sports leagues to the Chicago Fire Academy, charging that these institutions are racist.
Efforts like these have won Pfleger high praise from Chicagos black community. Father Mike is a man with a message for this messed-up age, says Sandra Riley, an evangelist at Chicagos Just For U Ministries. And if that message of pervasive racism, of unending discrimination, of a national conspiracy to marginalize black Americans sounds antithetical to the hopeful, post-racial tenor of Obamas presidential campaign, it is nonetheless the case that it is broadly appreciated by the thousands of parishioners, whether from solidly middle-class Auburn Gresham or from more humble parts like crime-ridden Englewood, who attend the South Sides countless churches.
It is a reflection of the corrosive political climate on Chicagos South Side, and of the unlikely alliances that local racial pathologies have helped forge, that Rev. Wright is not even the most extreme of Pflegers allies. That dubious distinction better fits Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Like Wright, Farrakhan has been a frequent guest to St. Sabina. He has preached there on three different occasions. Loathed in the rest of the country, the minister has a friend in Fr. Pfleger. As for complaints that Farrakhan, who once called Hitler a very Great man, is a bigot and an anti-Semite, Pfleger will not hear of it.
Minister Farrakhan is probably one of the most misunderstood and mis-defined leaders of our day, Pfleger has said. When you dont want to deal with someones truth, you try to destroy their character or redefine them His truth causes America to face its racism and its hypocrisy. That Farrakhans truth includes a belief in black supremacism to rival the worst Ku Klux Klan propaganda is to Pfleger, and to much of the South Sides black community, insignificant.
To understand Farrakhans prominence here Rev. Wright is another supporter of the minister, and his Trinity United Church of Christ recently honored him with a lifetime achievement award it helps to walk around the community.
Just around the corner from St. Sabinas, on 79th street, stands Salaam Restaurant. An immaculate white structure, it is identifiable by a decorative tower, bearing the Islamic star and crescent, which towers above a neighborhood of faded store-fronts, weather-beaten row houses, Soul Food eateries and hair salons. Built for $5 million in 1995, the restaurant is an advertisement for the influence of its famous owner: Louis Farrakhan. (Farrakhans daughter, Maria Farrakhan Muhammad, is said to have designed the pricey interior décor.)
That influence is everywhere to be seen. A fading white painted sign on the side of a brick building advertises Farrakhans radio show. (Hear Minister Louis Farrakhan.) An awning plugs lectures by the minister. To most Americans, Farrakhan is a racist. Here he is a pillar of the community, a man you would not wish to cross.
Fr. Pfleger, in any case, has no wish to do so. On the contrary, he cannot praise enough the man he unabashedly calls his mentor. As he told The Trumpet, the newsmagazine of Rev. Wrights Trinity United Church: Contrary to those who want to make him anti-white and anti-Semitic, I believe Minister Farrakhan is presently building the umbrella for people of conscience to come together no matter the race or creed. I am honored to call him my brother. It was surely the first time that the man who seethes at Jewish bloodsuckers was hailed as an agent of interfaith harmony.
Pflegers political activism and his relationship with figures like Wright and Farrakhan might be of merely parochial interest, a curious glimpse into the troubling ties that run through Chicagos South Side, were it not for the fact that Fr. Pfleger also is close to the most famous politician to pass through the community.
Pfleger says that he has known Obama for over twenty years. And while Obama worshipped at Wrights Trinity Church, he is known to have made frequent visits to St. Sabina. Indeed, in one of the promotional videos for St. Sabinas, the Democratic candidate can be conspicuously seen in the congregation.
Obama, to be sure, does not seem to share the racial hang-ups of his South Side supporters. In his often-insightful autobiography, Dreams From My Father (1995), he dismisses the black-power movement as a corrosive force that denies individual identity in its vision of blacks as constant victims. But if Obama is unwilling to accept all the convictions of the black community, neither is he prepared to sever his ties with those who, like Fr. Pfleger, shamelessly stoke racial tensions and undermine Obamas sincere efforts to move past the struggles of old.
This reluctance may explain why the Obama campaign seems strangely unembarrassed by the candidates association with Fr. Pfleger. On the campaign website, Pfleger is touted as one of the people of faith for Obama, and the site features a testimonial from Pfleger likening Obama to Robert F. Kennedy.
Yet, the relationship raises troubling questions about Obamas judgment. After all, the racially charged, Afro-centric sermons that have forced Obama to distance himself publicly from Rev. Wright are no different than those that can be heard weekly at Pflegers St. Sabinas church. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the two institutions apart. On a recent evening, for instance, St. Sabinas played host to a sermon by the Reverend Otis Moss, a protégé of Rev. Wrights who is currently the main pastor at his Trinity United Church. (Making clear his debt to Wright, Moss in his sermon likened media criticism of the reverend to the crucifixion of Christ.) Whatever criticism can be leveled at Wright can be directed, with equal justice, at Fr. Pfleger.
And there may be more at issue than the company Obama keeps. For instance, while Obama has promised to follow a new political model, one above the partisan jousting of Washington, his connection to Pfleger suggests that Obama is a practitioner of that oldest brand of partisanship: patronage politics. Thus, the Chicago Tribune has reported that between 1995 and 2001, when Obama was a state senator, Pfleger contributed some $1,500 to the young politicians campaign. In what seems suspiciously like a quid pro quo, Obama later would pad the state budget with earmarks to favored constituents, steering some $225,000 in grants to St. Sabina. Despite condemning business-as-usual in Washington, Obama now stood revealed as a veteran of the traditional approach.
Michael Pfleger is not easily confused with Barack Obama. To Obamas smooth, calming approach, he is gruff and outraged. Listen more closely, however, and its hard not to discern some similarities. When, in one recent sermon, Fr. Pfleger preached to his congregation -- We can recover! We can recover! -- it was impossible to miss the echo of Obamas stump slogan, Yes we can.
Now, as Obama seeks to distinguish himself from the likes of Rev. Wright, he must show that such echoes are only that. And he must explain, more adequately than he has to date, why voters should bet on him to achieve the racial reconciliation that his close friends and advisors, including Fr. Pfleger, have only served to delay.
Excellent SJ, thanks ping.
Oh btw, OT:
Great to see Obama hasn’t changed his ways...
Things missed at the polls/Indiana:
Marion County Clerk, Beth White, spoke with Election Journal about this controversial video. She said,
I am aware of what happened in the polling location and we informed the precinct Election Inspector that this was prohibited activity and must not continue.
Time to pull out the Obama voter fraud cases... should come in handy.
Those of us who live in the shadow of the city, know only too well just how dirty you have to be to be propelled from local Chicago politics onto the national scene.
But far from pragmatic associations for political ends, Obama’s roots are deeply intertwined, both here and in Africa, with the kind of Marxist revolutionaries and anti-capitalist demagogues that the rest of the world prefers to pretend do not exist, or if they do exist are impotent.
Wright, Farrakhan, Phleger, Ayers, Odinga et al are merely blemishes on the surface that betray the festering disease that is Obama.
Obama is simply the ILlogical extension of predictions made over 200 years ago.
An astute student of history and human nature, one Thomas Jefferson, predicted all this after witnessing the run up to the FIRST socialist/communist revolution in France while ambassador there. He penned the following observations concerning what would happen HERE should that socialism come to the United States. He CORRECTLY predicted that we would become an increasingly contentious and litigious people as we shouldered one another out of the way to get OURS from the public trough and the trough would soon be empty.
He also knew where the bulk of the problem would originate.
That whirring noise you may hear coming from that mountain in Charlottesville, Virginia is Mr. Jefferson getting up to around 3600 RPM.
“The mobs of the great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body. It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.” —Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIX, 1782. ME 2:230
I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.” —Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. Papers 12:442
“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts; but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere; and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue and freedom, would be my choice.” —Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 1800. ME 10:173
“Our cities... exhibit specimens of London only; our country is a different nation.” —Thomas Jefferson to Andre de Daschkoff, 1809. ME 12:304
“Everyone, by his property or by his satisfactory situation, is interested in the support of law and order. And such men may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves a wholesome control over their public affairs and a degree of freedom which, in the hands of the canaille of the cities of Europe, would be instantly perverted to the demolition and destruction of everything public and private.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:401
“An insurrection... of science, talents, and courage, against rank and birth... has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty, and vice, could not be restrained to rational action. But the world will recover from the panic of this first catastrophe.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:402
“I fear nothing for our liberty from the assaults of force; but I have seen and felt much, and fear more from English books, English prejudices, English manners, and the apes, the dupes, and designs among our professional crafts. When I look around me for security against these seductions, I find it in the wide spread of our agricultural citizens, in their unsophisticated minds, their independence and their power, if called on, to crush the Humists of our cities, and to maintain the principles which severed us from England.” —Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, 1814. ME 14:120
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