In contemporary American politics, as in love and war, it seems all's fair as candidates and their surrogates use any material at their disposal to discredit a rival.
And in a race as close as the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, it isn't likely that any detail from the past or present of either Sen. Barrack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton will likely be ignored for long. So it's no surprise that the question of Obama's relationship with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, would become the focus of scrutiny.
While both candidates have ardent supporters within the ranks of the Jewish community, this newspaper takes no sides in the battle between Clinton and Obama or, indeed, between either of the Democrats and their Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
But the community does have a vested interest in the question of whether or not views such as those promulgated by Wright are treated as being within the range of respectable opinion in this country. Wright's admiration for the hatemonger Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam is a matter of record. And he has claimed the United States brought the 9/11 attacks on itself via support for Israel. This embrace of hate and scapegoating of the Jews is repugnant and needs to be condemned by all persons of goodwill.
Thus, it was important that Obama condemned the statements of Wright in a speech this week at the Constitution Center. We applaud the fact that he criticized Farrakhan and rightly noted that Wright's statements "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country … 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."
Supporters of Wright, who have termed criticism of him as a "lynching" by the media, are wrong to try to turn this question into one that divides the country along racial lines. The question here is not race but of condemning extremist views which, as Obama noted, undermine the progress that we have made in this country.
But we also worry that attempts by Obama and others to place Wright's views in context will be seen, as Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman said, as an effort to "excuse and rationalize" bigotry. Far from being an issue of partisan advantage for one candidate or another, the priority here is to make sure that there be no doubt that the views of Jeremiah Wright, whatever the motivation, are condemned in such a way as to ensure that they are relegated to the margins — where they belong.