Sen. Trent Lott
WASHINGTON – While Sen. Barack Obama said he couldn’t throw over his friend and pastor of 20 years for racially charged and divisive hate speech, he had no trouble calling for the head of Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican Senate majority leader, for embracing a colleague with a segregationist past on his 100th birthday.
On Dec. 12, 2002, Obama, then serving as an Illinois state senator and filling in as host of the Cliff Kelley radio show on WVON, challenged the Republican Party to demand Lott’s resignation.
“It seems to be that we can forgive a 100-year-old senator for some of the indiscretion of his youth, but, what is more difficult to forgive is the current president of the U.S. Senate (Lott) suggesting we had been better off if we had followed a segregationist path in this country after all of the battles and fights for civil rights and all the work that we still have to do,” said Obama.
He added: “The Republican Party itself has to drive out Trent Lott. If they have to stand for something, they have to stand up and say this is not the person we want representing our party.”
Eight days later, Lott of Mississippi stepped down as majority leader – not president of the Senate. He had been under fire for his endorsement of Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist presidential campaign at the South Carolina senator’s 100th birthday party.
But Obama delivered a speech Tuesday televised nationally from Philadelphia in which he addressed his own association problem – explaining his connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a Chicago preacher of Afro-centrism with an anti-American and anti-white spin.
Obama denounced Wright’s statements, saying: “But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
He characterized them as “divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems.”
“Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough,” he continued. “Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.”
Obama explained that the video clips of Wright making racist, anti-American statements did not represent the Wright he knows – someone he considers part of his family.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” he said. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”