"Most of the electorate understands that the U.S. is in sorry shape, which is why more than 80 percent of poll respondents say we’re on the wrong track. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has nothing to do with any of that. The idea that his nonsense may shape the outcome of this election is both tragic and absurd."
By BOB HERBERT
Published: May 3, 2008
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is no doubt (and regrettably) a big issue in the presidential campaign. But what we’ve seen over the past week is major media overkill — Jeremiah Wright all day and all night. It’s like watching the clips of a car wreck again and again.
We’ve plotted the trend lines of his relationship with Barack Obama over the past two decades. What did Obama know and when did he know it? We’ve forced Barack and Michelle Obama, two decent, hard-working, law-abiding, family-oriented Americans, to sit for humiliating television interviews, reminiscent of Bill and Hillary Clinton on “60 Minutes” at the height of the Gennifer Flowers scandal.
We’ve allowed the entire political process in what is perhaps the most important election in the U.S. since World War II to become thoroughly warped by the histrionics of a loony preacher from the South Side of Chicago.
There’s something wrong with us.
Race is like pornography in the United States — the dirty stories and dirty pictures that everyone professes to hate but no one can resist. But I suspect that even porn addicts get their fill sometimes.
The challenge for the working press right now is to see if we can force ourselves past the overwhelming temptations of Wright and race and focus in a sustained way on some other important matters, like the cratering economy, metastasizing energy costs, the dismal state of public education, the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or the damage being done to the American soul by the endless war in Iraq.
A highly decorated Army ranger named David McDowell, a 30-year-old father of two from Ramona, Calif., was killed in Afghanistan this week. As I read his obituary, I noticed that he had been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq seven times. What does that tell us about our shared wartime sacrifices?
I’d like to hear a lot less about Reverend Wright and a lot more about why the U.S. can’t close the deal in Afghanistan and hardly even seems interested in extricating our G.I.’s from Iraq.
Among the many other important issues overshadowed by the good reverend is a legitimate dispute between the presidential candidates over a proposed gasoline tax holiday, to run through the summer. Hillary Clinton and John McCain favor this dopey, irresponsible proposal, which would save individual motorists a grand total of $28, but which would result in $9 billion in lost tax revenues, much of it targeted for infrastructure needs.
(Senator Clinton says she would recoup the losses with a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Don’t hold your breath.)
No one with a serious understanding of the nation’s energy needs supports this foolishness. Senators Clinton and McCain have been assailed by editorial writers on the left and the right for pandering. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City was stinging in his criticism, calling the proposal “about the dumbest thing” he’d heard in a long time.
“Obama was right on this one, and McCain and Clinton were wrong,” said Mr. Bloomberg. “The last thing we need to do is to encourage people to drive more and to take away the monies we need for infrastructure in this country.”
The point here is that this was a tailor-made opening for the press to push the candidates hard on a phenomenally important question: What should we be doing in the short and long term about U.S. energy requirements?
Another issue: Economists were exhaling Friday because we only lost 20,000 jobs in April. After all, we lost 81,000 in March. Nevermind that we need to be creating millions of jobs if we’re ever going to get our economic house in order. With credit cards maxed out, real estate prices falling and enormous amounts of home equity already drained, a good job is the only legitimate way to put real money into the hands of cash-strapped families.
Americans are hurting on the jobs front. Those who are employed are working fewer hours and for less pay. Some sectors are crippled by unemployment. There are big-city neighborhoods in which the real jobless rate of young African-Americans is 80 percent or higher.
Do the candidates have concrete strategies for engaging these problems? Could we hear about them? Explore them? Critique them?
Are we in the news media going to be serious about this election, or is it really going to be all about Wright and race all the time?
Most of the electorate understands that the U.S. is in sorry shape, which is why more than 80 percent of poll respondents say we’re on the wrong track. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has nothing to do with any of that. The idea that his nonsense may shape the outcome of this election is both tragic and absurd.