By David Glovsky, Staff Columnist
Published on Friday, January 18, 2008
I am a political junkie. I follow Senate races, House races and pretty much anything else I can get my hands on. I can follow the most inane stories and wonder how they will affect the future of our nation's presidential race. Essentially, there is no story too trivial for me. Or so I thought.
On Tuesday, however, a column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post forced me to reconsider. Apparently Senator Barack Obama's church, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, runs a magazine managed by the daughters of its minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The magazine gave an award named after the minister to Louis Farrakhan, saying that he "truly epitomized greatness." Cohen's gripe (and I agree with him) was that Louis Farrakhan is a noted anti-Semite.
Mr. Farrakhan has a long tradition of insensitive and anti-Semitic comments, including, "The Jews have been so bad at politics they lost half their population in the Holocaust. They thought they could trust in Hitler, and they helped him get the Third Reich on the road."
This is not an isolated example. One London paper, The Guardian, has a robust collection of racist and anti-Semitic statements from Mr. Farrakhan.
Cohen states, "I don't for a moment think that Obama shares [Reverend] Wright's views on Farrkhan. But the rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle."
Within 24 hours, Obama had criticized Farrakhan's past statements and his church for giving the award.
Why is this newsworthy? I assume that most political candidates are against anti-Semitism, just as I assume all candidates are not racist unless evidence suggests otherwise.
When a campaign representative says something controversial about one of the other candidates, it justifies public attention; it could be political strategy or dirty politics. At least it could provide something relevant to this presidential race that would merit discussion.
The bigger issue is not Louis Farrakhan -- who has long been a controversial figure -- but in the politicization of an issue so far removed from Mr. Obama's campaign. Unlike Mr. Cohen, I do not understand why the senator needs to comment on the questionable actions of the children of his minister. I understand that Obama is running for the most important office in the nation, but at the same time, is this really supposed to be considered a legitimate issue?
Is this supposed to be Obama's "Sister Souljah moment," where he takes a stand and risks alienating some supporters? Senator Obama is the most prominent African-American presidential candidate in our nation's history.
Are we waiting for him to take a stand against two African-Americans, his minister and Mr. Farrakhan? Would we expect Hillary Clinton to do the same thing with women? I think we are worse off for making this news.
While the 24-hour news cycle is great for those who want a constant stream of political updates, it demands that any petty news becomes national news.
We have a presidential race that appears to be settling down quite a bit (this week's Democratic debate was a love fest of epic proportions), but there are still newspaper columns that need to be completed and political blogs that need updating.
The "Hillary Clinton Beats Uncommitted in Michigan" story just does not offer as much excitement as "Obama's Farrakhan Test."
We should be careful not to stir up trouble just for the sake of a 24-hour news quota.
Policy differences may not be a huge winner in terms of ratings, but they certainly matter more than the irrelevant praise of an anti-Semite by the children of the minister of one of the candidates.
I have never met the children of my Rabbi, but if I were running for office and they said something controversial, I hope I would not be required to condemn something they said. Our candidates have better things to do with their time.