As the days grow shorter and cooler and the angle of the sun bathes desert and mountain with the year's most special kind of light, Brandi and I spend more and more time out there, listening to the silence. I can't tell what my uncharacteristically pensive boxer-shepherd is thinking, but I'm thinking about fathers and about integrity.
I think of my father and his father and their passion for the works of Shakespeare. I remember an autumn Saturday in the woods with my Dad. We were "hunting" with our .22s but the squirrels in that Ohio woodland were quite safe; the walk, the companionship, the mutual appreciation of the silence, the sunlight, the falling leaves and the acorns and the scents of deepening fall -- these were more important than shooting at squirrels.
Something I had said the night before troubled Homer Arthur Frederick Wark, the autocrat of Herbert Avenue. Quoting an English teacher, I said that Polonius in Hamlet was an unmitigated hypocrite and so his famous advice to his son Laertes, one of my father's favorite passages, was but so much eloquent bullshit.
When we paused to rest on the trunk of a fallen tree, he turned to me and said softly, "It's about integrity." Shakespeare, he said, used the playwright's tools, from irony ('. . .clothes make the man. . .') to moral imperative ('This above all, to thine own self be true. . .') to place eternal verities in the mouth of a minor and not entirely admirable character. He handed down to me his own moral imperative: "If only men of perfect character can be held to speak truth, scant truth would ever reach human ears. After all, the world could give us only one Lincoln; it can never give us another."
It was Chris Hedges, one of today's most important American writers, who set me to ruminating about fathers and integrity, when I read his recent article based on a long conversatisn with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"Wright, who perhaps knows Obama better than nearly any other person in the country, sees a man who sold his principles for the chimera and illusion of power. But once Obama achieved power he became its tool, its vassal, its public face, its brand."
To Hedges, Obama is Wright's personal Judas: "Obama's politically expedient decision to betray and abandon his pastor (Wright) exposed his cowardice and moral bankruptcy. In that moment, he surrendered the last shreds of his integrity." Now merely a "black Mascot for Wall Street," Obama, Hedges writes, must "grapple with the fact that he was a traitor not only to his pastor, the man who married him and Michelle, who baptized his children and who kept him spiritually and morally grounded, but to himself. Wright retains what is most precious in life and what Obama has squandered -- his soul.
"I grew up as a Christian," Hedges writes. "My father was a pastor. I graduated from a seminary. I can distinguish a Christian pastor from the slick imposters and charlatans. Wright preaches the radical and unsettling message of the Christian Gospel. He calls us to live the moral life. He knows that the measure of our lives as individuals and as a nation is reflected in how we treat our most vulnerable. And he knows on whose side he stands. Obama, who like Judas took his 30 pieces of silver and betrayed someone who loved him, withers into moral insignificance in Wright's presence."
Wright, also the son of a pastor, thunders his own and his father's moral imperative, again and again, in his conversation with Hedges. The uncompromising eternal verities drive themselves home in his voice, like Polonius.
"President Obama was selected before he was elected," Wright said, "and he is accountable to those who selected him. Why do you think Wall Street got the break? Why do you think the big three [financial institutions] were bailed out? Those were the ones who selected him. We didn't select him. We don't have enough money to select anybody. You're accountable to those who select you. All politicians are. (Obama) is accountable to the ones that put him where he is. Preachers, pastors, ministers, we are not accountable to these people."
Selected before he was elected. Think back, America. Think back to the Democratic National Convention of 2004. Somewhere, probably in Boston, very powerful and no doubt very rich people reached down into the murk of Illinois state politics and selected an obscure black politician to speak to Democrats and to the world in prime time amid expertly orchestreated media hype, both before and after. With his acceptance of their pieces of silver, Barrack Obama had the presidency conferred upon him, and lost his soul. His betrayal of Wright was inevitable from that moment on.
Hedges (quoting Wright):
"In February 2007 on [a broadcast of 'Religion and Ethics' I said there will come a time when Obama will have to distance himself from me," Wright said. "Now that's February 2007. So the fact that he had to distance himself from me does not come as a surprise."
Nor is what follows a surprise, coming as it does from this stern demander of Christian principles, this apostle of truth, this custodian of the eternal verities:
"I was walking through the airport a few weeks ago," Wright said. "I saw on the cover, I think, of Time Magazine, Osama bin Laden's picture. The caption on the cover said 'Justice.' I said, 'How about murder? It was an assassin's hit.' What really bothered me as I read more about it was that Barack and Hillary [Clinton] and the war folk were sitting in the war room watching the hit. There were cameras in the field. It was a hit, two right above the eyebrow. Why, why, why did you murder that man? We have international courts. We have trials like the Nuremberg trials. Why did you murder him? Why not put him on trial?
"And I sat up in the middle of the night, about 10 days later, with the answer. I said, because you didn't want him to talk. If he starts talking on the stand everything comes unraveled. We will have to look at the Cheney war machine. A trial would rip to shreds the lies we have been telling ourselves and our American public. We can't afford that, so we murder him. We murder him and call it justice. That one really hurt. I said to myself, this is the Barack you once knew who cared enough about humankind to work in Altgeld Gardens with the poor, to not run against an African-American female, who now calls for a professional Navy SEAL assassination, a hit, and watches it. It's like that story you heard your dad preach and you know from seminary in Acts, where the demons said to the seven sons of Sceva, Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you? Who have you become?"
* * *
"One of you shall betray me." (Matthew, 26:21)
"Is it I, Lord?"
"He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him." (John 23:26).