Sunday Morning Segregation: Peggy Noonan & The Wright Stuff

by Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

The "Reverend Wright is Wrong" refrain has been repeated endlessly this past week as pundits on both sides weigh in on the racial and religious controversy that's rocked the Obama campaign. Martin Luther King, Jr. touched on this not-so-divine divide 45 years ago:

"We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation."

Sunday morning in our household is, by contrast, the one time during the week when we suspend our secular segregation and tune in to the hot air from beltway blowhards on both sides of the partisan divide. On rare occasions, we even agree with an aside from George Will or a point made by Pat Buchanan.

But Wall Street Journal pundit Peggy Noonan literally gave us pause on Meet the Press yesterday when she responded to a question from Tim Russert about Obama's seminal speech so reasonably that we had to grab the remote, rewind, and relisten:

Tim Russert: Is Obama uniquely situated to talk bluntly to both the white community and the black community?

Peggy Noonan: Maybe he's situated to speak with a certain sensitivity. He's a black man. He also is white. He is both. That means he has experience of both communities, if that isn't too clunky a word to use. Let me take--say, Tim, I thought one of the most important things that he did in his speech was talk about racism even though he started with slavery, and that was a long time ago. He talked about racism as a generational problem, as a problem that had changed over the years. He said Reverend Wright came from the Jim Crow days, he came from another America, and he was shaped and misshapen by that dreadful cultural arrangement of Jim Crow.

Younger black people and younger white people do not have the same experiences. They have to understand each other, they have to mark their progress, they have to, on both sides, stop using the past as an excuse not to get along or, or not to change and improve. So I haven't heard anybody say that in, in politics in some time in America. I thought it was a real insight, really smart and the beginning of a wonderful start-off point for, for more talk.

Let me say something else, though. It seems to me, every time I look at a YouTube of Reverend Wright talking and doing his thing and saying his strange things, I notice two things. One is that the people behind him look bored. Another is that frequently, not always, but when they pan to the crowd, his audience looks almost passive, like we are receiving this, we're hearing this, we know what's going on. It seemed to me that in his statements, Wright was not just extreme, radical--we all know the words to say, because they are true--but that he was a throwback. He was old-fashioned. He himself was the voice of yesterday.

And I was wondering about the extent to which that audience and people like Barack and Michelle Obama know he is yesterday, and yet he has some wonderful things within him as a human being. I just throw that open as a possibility.

Upon hearing this, my husband Matt and I looked at each other in absolute amazement. To hear Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, give the kind of response that you'd expect from, say, Donna Brazile, was a minor Easter miracle, a resurrection of rationality after a week of crucifixion from conservatives.

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