Obama’s “guilt by association”

Of course the Democratic debates were nothing but crap—but tonight especially, a very particular kind of crap. It is not even that Obama was aggressively pelted with questions about issues to the side of anything relating to whether he would make a good President. (Not that I think there is any such thing as a “good President.”) But regarding his relationships with Pastor Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground: What precisely is the problem here?1 Is it not enough to say, simply, that Obama favors or endorses certain things about these gentlemen, and not other things about them? I can think of no person—no entity—on earth which I wholeheartedly endorse, in every respect, at every moment, without any qualification whatsoever. (If nothing else, the persons or things I basically like could still “do more of the same.”) The proper attitude to any object is always some disposition of “mixed feelings.”

Why must one embrace his associates on the level of the “whole individual,” rather than on the level of qualities and features, of which there are several in the same individual? If I must reject an individual because he has some “bad parts” to himself, I may as well go the whole way and argue that we should reject entire “humanity” because it has some “bad parts” to itself—for one, that very individual whose own bad parts make him bad.

Notwithstanding, Obama’s association with these men could still mean trouble, if somebody actually thought he would as President make efforts to “damn America” in God’s name or blow up Federal buildings, on inspiration from his friends. But does anyone actually think Obama has these designs? And if they don’t, just what is the fear? Finally, there is the argument that his association—the fact that Obama could tolerate these men, or their “bad sides”—shows a lack of judgement. But of course, this begs the question: For what he would be lacking judgement about are just those problems his relationships with these men actually pose—and the fact that they are a problem, as I have argued, still needs to be shown.

Notes

11 For argument’s sake, I’m assuming that mainstream criticisms of Wright and Ayers themselves are valid; this is not my own view.

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