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Commentary: Listen to the candidates, not their associates

  • Story Highlights
  • Martin: It's not plausible that Obama, or anyone, shares every view with associates
  • Many politicans, conservative and liberal, have ties to controversial figures
  • Martin: Both sides have supporters who have praised Nation of Islam's Farrakhan
  • Our real focus should be on the candidates and their views on the issues
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Its been an interesting week watching folks analyze the outcry over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments, especially when they try to link them to Sen. Barack Obama.

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Roland S. Martin says all the presidential candidates have supporters with controversial views.

Obama's supporters say it's wrong to associate his views with those of his pastor at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

His opponents say that surely his views are linked with Wright's, including the pastor's praise of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Conservative talker Sean Hannity -- who incidentally many have accused of associations with white supremacist Hal Turner, which he denies -- was foaming at the mouth. He called Wright a racist and an anti-Semite, and then said we all should assume Obama is also a racist and an anti-Semite.

Talk about a stretch.

Frankly, it's just not plausible to suggest that you always share the same feelings or views as someone you know.

In remarks to a Pittsburgh newspaper, Sen. Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the Wright controversy by saying: "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."

True. Very true. But there's also some reality that politicians pick and choose who they want to be associated with.

Clinton pressed Obama during a debate this year to repudiate and denounce Farrakhan's unsolicited praise of him at an event the Nation of Islam leader organized for his group in Chicago.

The moderator, NBC's Tim Russert, brought up comments made by Farrakhan 24 years ago in his question to Obama.

Fine, so what do we make of then-President Bill Clinton publicly endorsing the 1995 Million Man March? Who called for that march? Louis Farrakhan. Who was the lead organizer? Louis Farrakhan. Who was the keynote speaker? Louis Farrakhan.

After he was out of the White House, President Clinton also endorsed the Million Man March. Who called for that march? Louis Farrakhan. Who was the lead organizer? Louis Farrakhan. Who was the keynote speaker? Louis Farrakhan.

Did Sen. Clinton privately or publicly rebuke her husband for supporting a man whom she has determined to be hateful and divisive?

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is national co-chair of Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign, once stood on stage with Farrakhan in 1997 -- at an event the Times said was "called to promote racial reconciliation after several recent high-profile crimes" -- and praised him for his commitment to ending violence in the black community. Rendell was the mayor of Philadelphia at the time.

According to the April 15, 1997, story in The New York Times, Farrakhan praised Rendell before 3,000 people at the anti-violence rally for ''his courage and strength to rise above emotion and differences that might be between us or our communities.'' Video Roland Martin argues that Obama is not alone in his controversial associations »

According to the Times, Rendell, who is Jewish, commended the Nation of Islam for its emphasis on family values and self-sufficiency.

Must Clinton repudiate and denounce Rendell's past comments and association with Farrakhan?

Former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp is a huge supporter of Sen. John McCain, and he also has a Farrakhan story.

In 1996, when Kemp was the vice presidential running mate of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, he told reporters that he wanted to meet with Farrakhan and praised his organization's focus on economic empowerment, family values and its pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstrap message -- right in line with the GOP talking points. Kemp said he wanted to speak at the Million Man March.

Boy, was he torn apart by Jewish critics, and many in his own party.

Kemp summarily criticized Farrakhan's comments about Jews and whites, but he didn't take his words back. By the way, Hannity pressed every African-American supporter about Farrakhan, but he never got in Kemp's face about his comments. I wonder why?

Must McCain repudiate and denounce Kemp's past comments and association with Farrakhan?

When it comes to homosexuality, no Clinton or Obama supporter should think of criticizing the other campaign's black ministerial supporters because that means most of their own would have to be disassociated from their campaigns.

On CNN's "The Situation Room," Paul Begala mentioned "hateful" things said about gays by the Rev. James Meeks, founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, and an Obama supporter. Meeks has made no bones about his firm opposition to homosexuality (and abortion), which is one of the reasons he's very close to many of the nation's white conservative pastors. (I know him well; I'm a member of Salem).

And then there was the hoopla over gospel singer Donnie McClurkin when the Obama campaign recruited him to take part in a gospel concert tour around South Carolina. McClurkin has preached that homosexuals can be converted to heterosexuals. That set off a firestorm.

But Clinton also has her own issues with anti-gay pastoral supporters.

The Rev. Harold Mayberry, pastor of the First African Methodist Church in Oakland, has voiced for years his opposition to homosexuality. In fact, some have said he has compared homosexuality to thievery.

When Mayberry came out in support of Clinton, her campaign touted his endorsement, sans any mention of his anti-gay rants.

She has also received a $1,000 contribution from Bishop Eddie L. Long of the mega-church New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, who previously led an anti-gay marriage march in Atlanta.

Of course, when it comes to McCain, it wouldn't be a story if his ministerial supporters are anti-gay. It would be news if any of them actually supported homosexuality.

The bottom line: Everyone has an association that is open for scrutiny. Our real focus should be on the candidates and their views on the issues, because one of them will stand before the nation and take the oath of office and swear to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States.

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Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University. You can read more of his columns at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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