Roundtable: Obama Leaves Church Amid Scrutiny Following controversies, Barack Obama has decided to leave Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Our bloggers analyze his decision and weigh in on the Democratic National Committee's ruling to split Florida and Michigan's contested delegates.
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Roundtable: Obama Leaves Church Amid Scrutiny

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Roundtable: Obama Leaves Church Amid Scrutiny

Roundtable: Obama Leaves Church Amid Scrutiny

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. The Democratic Party makes some big decisions, and Barack Obama resigns from his church. We've got that and more on our Bloggers' Roundtable, with novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis, he blogs for the Huffington Post and Babble.com, Marjorie Valbrun, who is a contributing writer for TheRoot.com, she also blogs as XX Factor at Slate.com, plus Robert Redding of the ReddingNewsReview.com. Hi, folks.

ALL: Hello.

CHIDEYA: So the Democratic Party's rules committee decided to split the Florida and Michigan delegates between the two candidates. The move didn't sit well with the Clinton camp, even though she ended up getting more of those delegates. And things got heated at the meeting. Clinton supporters were screaming and chanting "NoBama" and "Let's go, McCain." Earlier in the show we spoke with our contributor Donna Brazile. She serves on the rules committee. But during the meeting, here's part of what she said.

(Soundbite of silence)

CHIDEYA: All right. We have that coming up a little bit of what she said during the meeting. But meantime, before we pull that up, because Donna is always hilarious, I'm going to ask you, Marjorie, there were some incredible comments that came out of this. There were - there was a woman who said that Barack Obama - and said this very publicly into a camera - was an unqualified black male. What do you make of the divisions in the party?

Ms. MARJORIE VALBRUN (Blogger, TheRoot.com & Slate.com's XX Factor): I think it's really troubling. I think it's troubling. I think he's going to have his work cut out for him if he in fact becomes the nominee, which appears pretty likely. But I don't think it helps, you know, relations between black voters and white voters, particularly white feminists and black women. And I think that, you know, they keep trying to frame the argument as him not being qualified, rather than, you know, her not being satisfied with not being the nominee.

And I was very troubled by some of the language they used during the DNC meeting. Harold Ickes used the word affirmative action, which, you know, is a buzz word for race. And I thought it was really unfortunate and ugly, I was very disturbed by the whole thing. But I don't think it helps Clinton with Barack's supporters either.

CHIDEYA: Trey, let's listen to a little bit of Donna Brazile.

(Soundbite from the Democratic Party Rule Committee Meeting)

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Member, Democratic Party Rules Committee): My mama always taught me to play by the rules and to respect those rules.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. BRAZILE: And my mother also taught me…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. BRAZILE: And my mother also taught me, which I am sure your mother taught you, because you are clearly a fine man and a public servant that I've admired for years, that when you decide to change the rules, especially middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CHIDEYA: Trey, when you think about that, you know, that's some pretty tough talk from Donna. And there was tough talk from all quarters here. What do you think is - I mean, if you can put on your, you know, your kind of thought bubble to the future, once the primaries are wrapped up, do you think that Senator Clinton will bow down to pressure to leave for the good of the party, as some people argue, if she does not have enough of the delegates?

Mr. TREY ELLIS (Blogger, The Huffington Post & Babble.com): Yeah, I think, you know, she's been negotiating the terms of her surrender for weeks now. And I think she's got to be coming to terms with it and understand that she's been kind of - and her supporters have been so classless in how they have comported themselves, not only on Saturday, but before that, that I think outsiders have got to pull her coat a little bit and say, this is bigger than this election, your legacy, it really stands in judgment now. And you can be an elder statesman in your party and have a fine career after this if you do the right thing. And she's really at a crossroads right now.

CHIDEYA: In fact, Senator Obama said something along those lines. He gave a section of his speech where he was describing her as a great public servant, etc., etc. Robert, do you think that was a gentle, or not so gentle brush-off, it's kind of like, thanks for playing, now leave?

Mr. ROBERT REDDING (Blogger, ReddingNewsReview.com): Well, no, I think it's definitely an overture for her to be the stateswoman that she can be at this point and do the right thing. I think it's very troubling that the Democratic Party, which I used to be a part of, I'm now an Independent, has gone down this road. But I think blacks finally are seeing that it's not Fox News that did this, it's not some conservative right-wing agenda did this. This is the Democratic Party imploding from the inside out, and this is where character's really going to come into play here. Whether she has it, and I don't think she does.

One of the things that's a very misleading statement that she said is that the decision violates the bedrock of our democracy and our party. That's not true. Our democracy has nothing to do with delegates and how our political parties are structured. The Constitution has nothing to do with political parties. It doesn't even speak to political parties.

As a matter of fact, George Washington, the former president of the United States, of course, the first president of the United States, warned about political parties. So these are just very misleading statements, and she's extremely self-serving, and I think people are finally seeing the Clintons for what they really are, and that's only out for self and not out for anyone else except themselves.

CHIDEYA: Now, all of you are black. This is a show that focuses on African-American issues. Do you think that the perspective of white America, whether or not, I mean, not white America, white Americans, is different fundamentally, whether or not you're talking about Obama supporters or Clinton supporters or McCain supporters? Do you think that white Americans or non-black Americans generally read the racial politics of this differently?

Ms. VALBRUN: I do. Yes.

Mr. ELLIS: Yeah.

Mr. REDDING: Absolutely.

CHIDEYA: How so?

Mr. REDDING: Well, I think, we know, we come from different points of view, and this Obama campaign has really been a litmus test for so many of us. But you know, that goes back to his being biracial as well. I mean, they really, people see in him what they want to see. And certainly black people now see a black man in a way that they were not quite so sure that they saw a black man when he first began his campaign.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, speaking of the biracial issue, he's, of course, the son of an African immigrant and a white woman from Kansas. And to some folks, he really is biracial, but he acknowledges that and still refers to himself very much as an African-American man.

Marjorie, you recently wrote a column for TheRoot.com and you talked about Oprah Winfrey and Obama being in a certain, you know, heightened, rarified sphere for black people and to many white American, transcending race. What do you mean by that?

Ms. VALBRUN: Well, I've never really bought into this term of transcending race, but I think the way it's been used in this campaign is that, for some people, you know, they don't really see him as black, and I've heard that so many times from white people I've interviewed. Well, he's not really black. What do you mean by that? Well, in the traditional sense.

And I think for some people that means that, you know, he's post-civil rights, he doesn't have the quote unquote racial baggage that I guess of other political leaders or black candidates like, you know, Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton.

And from others, I think that somehow they just kind of relate to him because, you know, he has maybe a background like them. Not in terms of his upbringing, but his education and his work and his, you know, economic status.

But I think that there are some people who do see him as black and who say that doesn't matter. You know, this whole thing about race doesn't matter which I think that most black people don't buy into that because we know, in America, race always matters and that's why this race has gone on for so long.

But I think that there are others who feel that he is the best candidate. His race doesn't matter to them. And they feel very proud of themselves for embracing him. And I think that a lot of white Americans want, in their mind, to get beyond race, which I don't know that we can, but I think that they see this as a chance for this country to do something great and big.

CHIDEYA: Robert, we talked a little bit last week about the number of black Independents who were running this time around, Cynthia McKinney and several other people. Do you have a sense of how race is playing out in those races since you yourself are a political Independent?

Mr. REDDING: Well, it's interesting you should ask that. Bob Barr, who is black, who doesn't admit that he's black...

CHIDEYA: Oh, boy.

Mr. REDDING: He's like the opposite of Barack Obama.

CHIDEYA: I can neither support nor deny that assertion. It has never been proven. So that's your opinion.

Mr. REDDING: You know, that's the thing. In Georgia - I'm from Georgia, Atlanta, specifically - we've always know this, and that's the thing that really kind of rubs people the wrong way which we thought Barack Obama, some people thought Barack Obama, was going to come at running for president. And, you know, but I think that it has not materialized, the race issue has not materialized, as obviously as it has in the Democratic sphere.

But that just tells you the underlying problems, you take two lines leaving the KKK rally, one going left, one going right. The Democratic Party going left and the Republican Party going right, at the end of the day, they're both filled - these parties are both filled with people that hate black people, don't want to see black people in positions of power within their political parties.

And the Republicans have been accused of this more than the Democrats, and we're seeing a fair share, now, of this in the Democratic realm, in the Democratic sphere. I think that this also exists within the Independents' movement as well. I haven't seen as much evidence of this, but only time will bear that out.

CHIDEYA: Trey, let's move on to another topic. There are more preacher problems for Senator Obama. First of all, he quit his church, and then the Reverend Michael Pfleger mocked Hillary Clinton for getting teary-eyed before the New Hampshire primary, and during his sermon, he pretended to be Clinton crying. He said Clinton though white privilege was enough to give her the nomination. This is a reverend who has been a friend of Reverend Wright, who used to be Senator Barack Obama's pastor. Now, Senator Obama condemns the whole sort of acting game with the Clinton mocking just as he did Wright's comments back in April.

Overall, do you think that Senator Obama is probably fed up at this point with his various church-related issues, and do you think, on the other side, that his quitting the church, even more so than renouncing his former minister, could be viewed by some in the African-American community as being cowed, or even a betrayal?

Mr. ELLIS: It's funny. When the Reverend Wright, when he first began his book tour, I had friends who were showing me the - actually Pfleger, Father Pfleger's defending him and saying that Wright was misunderstood and they were trying to rally behind Reverend Wright. And I said, you guys are crazy to rally behind this guy who is obviously grandstanding because his protege is getting the limelight now.

And then, I think, the black community really switched on a dime, I think, and really realized that the greater good, the bigger good of having an African-American president of the United States is bigger than this kind of solidarity to this group that can't sort of think in sort of Politics 101, understand what you have to do to get somebody elected. And how self-serving and how, sort of, impolitic some of these comments can be at a really delicate time.

It's not brain surgery, so I think that the black community, I think it's going to give Obama a pass on this and understand that this is not just - this is for real. This is not like a Jesse Jackson campaign which is more symbolic. This is the real thing.

CHIDEYA: Marjorie, Rollin Martin of CNN was just saying yesterday that he does not expect the Obamas to choose another church until the election, kind of see how things roll out. But is that, is not being affiliated with a church, when Senator Obama has made much of his Christian faith, is that a downside?

Ms. VALBRUN: I'm not sure that it is. I think that - you know, first of all, he's not going to have time to find a new church. And I think that this church thing has just been such an albatross around his neck that it probably would be a safer, frankly, political bet not to join a church.

I disagree a little bit. I think that some black people will see it as a betrayal, but I also think that some people will think he's doing the church a favor as well because they've gotten so much negative publicity. But I think that he still speak in terms of embracing his Christianity. And I suspect that he'll talk about that a bit more on the campaign trail. You know, but McCain has his own church problems, too, so maybe both of them will become, you know, agnostic until after the election.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELLIS: Or they'll join the same church, perhaps.

Ms. VALBRUN: Oh, yeah, that's very likely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Robert, do you think that Christianity is going to become a big factor in this election as it has been in past ones?

Mr. REDDING: Oh, absolutely. I think that this will now open up the door, him leaving the church, as to whether he was a Muslim in the first place, whether he's a Muslim. The fact that, of course, some members of the church, including the minister in question last Sunday, what's his name, Pfleger?

Ms. VALBRUN: Pfleger.

Mr. REDDING: Has this association with Farrakhan, whether he's a Muslim. Of course you're going to hear this over and over, again. Whether people believe it or not is another question. I believe that you can be a Christian without going to church, although you're considered a stronger Christian if you do go to church every Sunday, so it will continue to be an issue, I think.

CHIDEYA: All right, guys. Thank you so much.

Ms. VALBRUN: Thank you.

Mr. ELLIS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We were just speaking with novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis. Trey blogs for the Huffington Post and Babble.com. He joined us from our NPR studios in New York. Also with us was Marjorie Valbrun, who's also a contributing writer for TheRoot.com. She blogs for XX Factor at Slate.com. And Robert Redding of the ReddingNewsReview.com.

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