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Guilt by association, guilt by choice or both?
Posted by: McQ on Friday, April 18, 2008

One of the more interesting developments in this year's presidential primary race has been the exposure of Barack Obama's pastor's racist and anti-American speech from the pulpit. There is really no argument from Obama that what Jeremiah Wright is seen saying on various YouTube clips are both of those things. The argument has been, what does that mean about Barack Obama?

Does that reflect on Obama? Is that "guilt by association" which most people reject, or is it association by choice and thus "guilt by choice" (for lack of a better phrase)? Or is it a bit of both?

If your brother were to commit a crime, which came as a complete surprise to you, are you too guilty of anything? Most people would say "no". First, in this case, you have no choice about the association. Your brother can be as unlike you as an apple is an orange. And you certainly may not share the same thoughts, ideas, ideals or values just because you are brothers. So most reasonable people would not find you share any guilt for his actions in such a relationship.

But what about relationships you choose and then nurture. Most people understand that relationships of choice are usually based on common ground of some sort - shared values, ideology, thoughts or interests. Those are normally the reasons you choose to begin a relationship and continue it. So a chosen relationship or association's basis is something other than that of biology. Given the family example above, it is absolutely possible that you may have much more in common with those you associate by choice than those you are associated with by biology.

So what "guilt", if any, would such an association bring? Well you are certainly "guilty" of the choice. It is your decision, and thus the responsibility for the association is yours. And it stands to reason that any association in which you choose to voluntarily engage, must have some common basis for that choice.

Obviously there are many associations based in perfectly benign interests. You choose to associate with a group playing baseball, because you like baseball. That certainly doesn't mean you share their opinion of the world (although you might) or their ideology or their actions outside of your association. You choose that association strictly because you like baseball and that group enables you to engage in what you like. Nothing more.

What if you were to join a book club? What if you met every week to discuss a book you have all chosen to read and discuss? Again, an association by choice based on something in common - a love of books and a desire to discuss them. Again the same sort of reasoning as the baseball team.

However, what if you found pornography to be degrading, immoral and something you would refuse to associate yourself with at any time (and don't get hung up on pornography - it could be anything, such as racism or anti-Americanism - it is just convenient for this example)? And let's say one of your book club brought a book in that you and any reasonable person would consider to be pornographic. But this person argues it is merely erotic, claims eroticism is perfectly acceptable in modern society and the book club should examine and discuss the book. What if the rest of your book club agreed and decided to examine the book for the next meeting?

What are your choices then? Obviously you can express your outrage and unwillingness to participate in such a thing and hope they'll change their mind. At that point, since the book hasn't been accepted or examined by the club, the association is still beneficial and you can't be considered guilty of agreeing pornography as morally acceptable.

What if you lose your argument? What if the club then decides, over your objections, to accept the book and discuss it at the next meeting? What are your choices then? They basically come down to two:

A) You can stay, continue with the meetings and accept the club's decision.

or

B) You can leave, refusing to associate with a group which would condone and accept pornography.

If you stay, is your association with that group changed? It is still one of choice, but a very significant moral change has occurred. Are you, or are you not, now guilty of accepting the new premise that pornography is morally acceptable?

Does that then make you "guilty by association" when it is you who choose to continue the voluntary association knowing full well what it entails? Or are you "guilty by choice"? Or both?

Those are the questions being asked about Obama's 23 year relationship with his pastor. It is obviously an association he chose (and chooses to continue). It is one he entered into because of claimed shared beliefs. It is one that traditionally associates those who choose the relationship with the beliefs of the pastor and the institution.

How then does one claim, after 23 years of membership and calling his pastor his spiritual mentor, to be able to disassociate himself with what his pastor says and believes? Why now and not much earlier? Given the claimed basis for the church's theology, how can a 23 year member not know what the association with that church and pastor entailed?

Those are the questions still laying on the table for candidate Obama. Until he answers them fully and completely, he will continue to be associated with those with whom he chose to voluntarily associate and their beliefs. As I see it that is quite fair and important.
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Those are the questions still laying on the table for candidate Obama. Until he answers them fully and completely, he will continue to be associated with those with which he chose to voluntarily associate himself and their beliefs. As I see it that is quite fair and important.
His 23 year long association and refusal to disown his Pastor pretty much speak for himself. He’d need one hell of an explanation to moderate those facts.

I think people want to believe his association with Wright was pragmatic.

I have two thoughts on this.

1) The anti-American & anti-Western Culture sentiment has enough of a base that its still pragmatic to appeal to that base, even as a run up to the Presidency

2) He simply believes it. And he’s playing a game of deception without lying (or at least minimum lying). Because being caught in a flat out lie is about he only way political harm comes to a Democrat politician. He wants to get into office and when he pushes for the Progressive Utopia, he wants to be able to claim people shouldn’t complain. He will tell them he didn’t lie about what he was about. Its like the episode of twilight zone where a man wishes for $1 million dollars from a devilish character. After taxes he only gets $5 dollars because his ’wish wasn’t specific enough’. That will be Obama’s defense, ’Its not his fault if the questions were not specific enough.’

I strongly believe, whether he’s being pragmatic and appealing to uber-progressive or if he really is one himself, it will be the same effect. If he takes the Presidency we’re in for one hell of a show.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
JPM says it well.

I would only add that the reason the left is to annnoyed just now is because they do not understand questions about character. They judge people, by and large through the fiter of how socialist and how anti-western you are (though they wll never call it that). On that basis, there are many who cannot understand why, for example Ayers is a net negative.

JPM’s comments about Obama being pragmatic ring true, because they fit within the model I’ve described, here. Obama’s realtionships with Ayers and with Wright are but two examples of the pragmatism. He choses to associate with these peple because as a pragmatist, he tends to go with what works to gain him power. He knows that such people, and such anti-western positions are popular in leftist circles, and so far from shunning them, he pursues them.

Obama also pursues those relationships because he beleives himself in their politics, and their goals. This would seem to be confirmed by Obama’s confusion when confronted by questions from people outside the anti-American lexicon.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist Professors and the structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated. [my emphasis - huxley]

—Barak Obama, Dreams from My Father
It’s more than pragmatism and deeper than fellow-traveling. Obama fashioned his life as a quest away from his whiteness and towards his black socialist father: "Dreams from My Father." This is how Obama stays in a black power church for 23 years and doesn’t mind working with bombers from the Weather Underground. Obama is a fascinating, somewhat tragic figure IMO. He has issues.

As I learn his story, I find myself feeling sympathy for him. But a man this lost really shouldn’t be president.
 
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
Sorry.....if the left can act like McCain is some sort of racist because he gave a speech in a town where a racist killer was born, then Obama is a horrific racist based on his close 20 year association with Wright.

Just playing by the rules they’ve established for demonizing others. And I couldn’t be happier.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Guilt by voluntary association. Maintaining a semi-amiable relationship with one’s criminal brother is understandable, since the basis of association - he may be a rat, but he’s still your brother - is involuntary. Maintaining a membership in a hate church in a small town (or even a rare sect in a medium to large city) where there is no other kind may be semi-excusable, if you believe strongly in going to church (or mosque) and have no better options in your area. Maintaining membership in a hate branch of a large denomination in a large city, however, is inexcusable.

The one thing I find oddest with those who whine about "guilt by association" is that they never seem to have a problem with those who gain from such associations, only those who lose anything on account of them. Back in the day, when Obama represented safely liberal "hate whitey" districts in Chicago, his association with Wright bought him a great deal of political capital. Why shouldn’t he have to pay back some of that capital now?
 
Written By: Xrlq
URL: http://xrlq.com/
I live in one of the blue capitals of the country. Occasionally I will press people about Obama’s church and his New Left background. Those who support Obama have got this angle figured already and they meet it with a hard slap shot such as I heard yesterday: "I think it’s great that Obama is in a black church like that! I agree with everything they say. The white man is their enemy. And you know there are a lot of black churches like that."
 
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
McQ you mentioned "pornography"...you know what I find ponographic...Yes that’s right OUR WAR OF CHOICE AND IMPERIALISTIC AGRESSION IS IRAQ! You can twist and turn but this "topic" is just a shallow, transparent excuse to try to avoid IRAQ!

Let me add..QUAGMIRE...GLOOM...DESPAIR...DECLINE...RETREAT.

Thank you and Good Day Sir
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I think there is a third option to that outlined above. In addition to stating your objections to the pornographic book, you could tell you fellow book-club members that you will not be attending the following week. Weeks following, when they discuss different, non-pornographic books, you would be happy to attend, but any time a pornographic book is going to be the subject of discussion, you will not be present.

Now, in the case of Obama, could we make the case that this third option is what happened (I believe that Obama is trying to make this case.) It would depend on two things.

1. Does the book club have enough "other" readings to make belonging to the book club beneficial even if you miss all the weeks (by choice) when pornographic books are discussed. In other works, if every meeting is pornographic, you can’t reasonably claim option 3.However, if it is only once a year and the book club meets every week, there are 51 decent meetings you can attend.

2. Is there any evidence that Obama stated to someone that "Hey, I don’t like it when he goes off on those rants." I even try to avoid church that Sunday if I know he is going to do that. Or something else that shows he actually disassociated himself from his pastor’s comments before they came to light in the campaign.

Just some thoughts.
 
Written By: Clark Taylor
URL: http://
In addition to stating your objections to the pornographic book, you could tell you fellow book-club members that you will not be attending the following week. Weeks following, when they discuss different, non-pornographic books, you would be happy to attend, but any time a pornographic book is going to be the subject of discussion, you will not be present.
But by attending again, aren’t you conceding the point? And given you’ve merely missed one meeting, what incentive does the club have to re-examine its actions?

You are choosing your association with the club over a moral principle which should preclude you from such an association if you actually believe in that moral principle.

Try this - you are a member of a church. The pastor of that church invites David Duke to deliver a sermon, which, as expected, is predictably racist.

Do you walk out during the sermon, and then return the next week when he’s no longer there, or would you think that extending an invitation to someone like David Duke would indicate a much wider, deeper and disturbing problem than just his sermon, and rethink your membership?

I’m afraid I’d do the latter. And my reasoning would be that I don’t want to associate with people who find his racism acceptable enough to invite him to speak. I’d apply the same sort of reasoning to the people in the book club who found pornography acceptable enough to review.
2. Is there any evidence that Obama stated to someone that "Hey, I don’t like it when he goes off on those rants." I even try to avoid church that Sunday if I know he is going to do that. Or something else that shows he actually disassociated himself from his pastor’s comments before they came to light in the campaign.
Not that I know of.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I get the impression that many people, who are uninterested in Obama’s church and pastor, aren’t devoted churchgoers themselves. They seem to think where you decide to worship on Sunday morning isn’t much different from where you decide to eat out the night before.

But no, if you are as sincere about your faith as Obama says he is, choosing and participating in a church is a deeply personal, heartfelt statement of your own values.
 
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
But no, if you are as sincere about your faith as Obama says he is, choosing and participating in a church is a deeply personal, heartfelt statement of your own values.
Not to mention $27,000+, according to his tax return, of his money going to the support of that church through his tithe.
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Try this - you are a member of a church. The pastor of that church invites David Duke to deliver a sermon, which, as expected, is predictably racist.

Do you walk out during the sermon, and then return the next week when he’s no longer there, or would you think that extending an invitation to someone like David Duke would indicate a much wider, deeper and disturbing problem than just his sermon, and rethink your membership?
I definitely see your point (and you are convincing me). I think the difference lies in two areas. First, when does doing something move from "they do things I don’t like" to "they represent things I don’t like." Associating with a group that occasionally does things I don’t like is different from associating with a group whose primary purpose is to be racist, pornographic, whatever. Second, there are differences between a group (the church says racist things) and a person (my friend occasionally says really stupid things.) I think of a book club as more of a group of friends than a formal organization. Having never been in one, maybe I am mis-informed (or have no friends, take your pick :)

I agree with your overall point. Obama chose his church. His church, in my mind, represents reverse racism. Obama continued to choose to associate with that church even after it had to have become clear (to anyone with half a brain) that the church consistently preached and advocated reverse racism. I don’t think you can call that guilt by association. That is guilt by choice.
 
Written By: Clark Taylor
URL: http://
First, when does doing something move from "they do things I don’t like" to "they represent things I don’t like."
In my opinion, it is when the basis of your association is that of common belief - such as faith or ideology for example. The assumption is that if you voluntarily associate yourself with a group which believes certain things, you too believe those things or there’s no real basis for you to continue the association.

That doesn’t mean you couldn’t be surprised by the group, in the Duke example for instance, however, at the point they surprise you in a negative way, you have to make a decision concerning your continued association with the group. If you choose to overlook what was said and done and continue your relationship, then it is reasonable for people to believe you accept what was said and done and condone it.
Second, there are differences between a group (the church says racist things) and a person (my friend occasionally says really stupid things.) I think of a book club as more of a group of friends than a formal organization. Having never been in one, maybe I am mis-informed (or have no friends, take your pick :)
Whether formal or informal it is still an association (and honestly, I’ve never belonged to a book club either). You most likely wouldn’t associate with a group of thugs for various reasons, but the fact is if you did, that association would most likely be an informal one. That, of course, wouldn’t stop people from associating you with their thugishness whether you ever did anything in that regard or not.

It is all about where you draw the lines in associations. It isn’t at all unreasonable for people to assume your beliefs coincide with the apparent beliefs of the others, and especially the leaders, of that group.
I agree with your overall point. Obama chose his church. His church, in my mind, represents reverse racism. Obama continued to choose to associate with that church even after it had to have become clear (to anyone with half a brain) that the church consistently preached and advocated reverse racism. I don’t think you can call that guilt by association. That is guilt by choice.
I think we pretty much agree on that.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
One small note: the guilt aspect of it is beside the point. No one is saying Obama is guilty of being anti-American because that’s not a crime. This doesn’t really change the merits of the argument, but it seems worth mentioning.

Larger thought: in most cases, it’s easier to enter an association than it is to leave it. The case of association with your brother is simply a trivial example of this, you "enter" by being born and you can never leave it, short of symbolically by disowning that person. A marriage is a better example: say you married someone who turned out to be a virulent racist and couldn’t leave because you wouldn’t gain custody of the children.

But the difficulty of leaving an association doesn’t necessarily mean that we should ignore that association. In this case, Obama joined the church and, given the district he was in, benefited politically from it. If he couldn’t leave it’s probably because he owes someone.
 
Written By: Ben
URL: http://
That’s a lot of big words to bring us yet another edition of "Barack Obama is a scary scary black man." Thanks McQ, that’s just what we’ve been missing.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Hmmmm....maybe he is a scary black man Retief, though wouldn’t he be just as scary if he were white? See example of Duke above. Or are you saying it is alright to be a scary black man but not a white one?

Still, I don’t see him as scary, just a man willing to lie down with whoever he thinks will get him where he wants to get. Hardly exceptional, just think it makes him a lot less exceptional than people think he is. I expect him to claim he is exceptional. The little bit above from his book shows exactly that. he was very concerned about how he appeared to those who he wanted to be in with. Too bad it isn’t the kind of thing that appeals to a broader segment of the voting public.

Funny, I think the left would be outraged at his association with those like Wright who are also so rabidly homophobic. I heard his and others he associates with say things far more offensive in that regard, but that seems not to have caused a ripple on the left. However, I have long been of the opinion that the left is far less interested in that area than they claim.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://riskandreturn.net
That’s a lot of big words to bring us yet another edition of "Barack Obama is a scary scary black man."


Or it could be a lot of big words to which you have no answer, so, as usual, you’d rather change the subject to something you’re more comfortable with: race baiting.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Lance, I would never presume to speak for Norbizness, most of The Left is not gay, thus homophobia isn’the top of their priorities. While anyone brighter than Andrew Sullivan can see that the left is the best hope for gay rights, it’s one of a constelation of issues for most of The Left.

McQ, perhaps you’d care to actually tell us what you think these relationships mean about Barack Obama? Instead of "legitimate questions" like is Obama’s Scary Black Pastor worse than Obama’s Pentagon Bombing Acquanitence or is it the other way round", maybe you’d like to spell out what you are trying to say about Obama. Or you could just link to these guys and outsource your "legitmate questions" screeds.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
McQ, perhaps you’d care to actually tell us what you think these relationships mean about Barack Obama?
You can’t puzzle that out by reading the post and the discussion that follows?

Amazing.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
So that’s a no? Well, it’s not surprising that you’d rather traffic in innuendo than come out an say what you’re trying to say when what you’re trying to say is so repelent.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
So that’s a no?
No, it’s not a "no". It’s a "read the freaking post".

Clear enough?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net

 
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