No doubt about it, Barack Obama was forced to kick his former pastor under the bus. I understand. You can't run for Cheerleader-in-Chief of America while your spiritual mentor is out front and center badmouthing the nation.
Then there's this reality: the world of American politics, where bumper sticker wisdom and sound bite dialog reign supreme, is not a comfortable place for the truth to reside.
And make no mistake about it: there was a bunch of truth telling in what Rev. Jeremiah Wright has been saying. I saw it and heard it during his speech and Q and A Monday. But the vast majority of Americans and my fellow journalists saw a train wreck. I didn't. I saw a Soul Train of a lecture and sermon with a payload of truth, intelligence and common sense.
I ended up into a back and forth e-mail debate about Wright's performance at the National Press Club with CNN's Roland Martin on the NABJForum. In the middle of our e-mail discussion, I noted that it was generational; Roland is about 20 years younger than I am. He insisted it was not.
Later in the day, I heard from Daniel St. Albin Greene. Dan took me under his wings when I was a cub reporter at the National Observer back in the early '70s. I hadn't talked to him in more than 25 years. He happened to see one of my commentaries on line about Rev. Wright and tracked me down.
After a bit of catching up, we took up the Wright controversy. Dan admitted to being thoroughly confused about Barack Obama's former minister until he saw the Bill Moyer's interview.
Then he got mad.
Back in the late '60s, Dan, who is an exotic mixture of Native and Euro-American, spent much of his time covering riots and racial protests for the Observer. He developed an in-depth understanding and an abiding appreciation for what was going on in the black liberation struggle.
When he got his first beyond the looped snippets look at Rev. Wright, he understood the man instantly. Wright, Dan surmised, was an old-fashioned black nationalist who had disappeared into the faith but still holds the liberation movement close to his heart and deep in his soul.
Dan's anger was sparked by the realization that there is an entire generation of journalists; editors and reporters that have no connection or understanding of the black liberation movements of the 1960s. Nor do they understand that while there are the Oprahs, Bob Johnsons and Bill Cosbys, blacks with plenty of wealth and influence, far too many African Americans are no better off, no more embedded in the American dream than their parents were a generation ago.
In watching yesterday's news and the response of regular black Americans, then Obama's angry divorce from his former pastor, I began to wonder if Roland hadn't gotten it completely right and if I had missed the boat.
I called Rev. Frank Watkins for a reality check. Frank was an idealistic young white man when he joined the civil rights movement back in the '60s. For the longest time, he was the Rev. Jesse Jackson's right-hand man. He later went on to work as Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.'s press secretary and was the campaign manager when the Rev. Al Sharpton ran for president four years ago.
Frank viewed Rev. Wright Press Club performance much like I did. As we talked and analyzed our response versus the vast majority, we concluded that it WAS generational for sure. We were looking at Wright's performance through the lens of the '60s. We were listening to his words to the tune of a time when Nina Simone's protest song, "Mississippi Goddamn," summed it all up.
Rev. Wright's God damns America echoed that sentiment.
As Frank and I talked, he pointed out that Rev. Wright was an analyst and that as an analyst he had been brilliant. Unfortunately, Wright's politics are as bad as his comprehension of this nation's problems is good. Beyond that, times have changed. It's no longer good enough to understand America's failures and to strongly express your frustrations with them.
The time has come to seriously seek out solutions. That's what Obama's candidacy symbolizes: a chance to put somebody in command that understands the shortcomings and will vigorously act to correct them.
This is why Obama's campaign themes of hope and change resonate so well with young people. With all respect to Rev. Wright and the late Nina Simone, a new day is on the horizon and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" tells that tale.