This post by Todd Zwicki over at The Volokh Conspiracy defending Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright seems to me a pretty good one, actually. I'm rather surprised it hasn't gotten more play in the blogosphere. Maybe it's because it doesn't quite fit into what's becoming the tripartite partisan narrative: the hard left defends Wright since he more or less thinks what they do (maybe excepting the "govt created AIDS" stuff); the right thinks he's a wacko and so is everyone who hangs out with him; and the libs think Wright is mostly wrong, but are more worried about his electoral effect (will he kill Obama's chance at winning the presidential race?). The virtue of Zwicki's post is that it notes, entirely correctly, that it's not quite right to judge people by their friends, since most of us have friends and close associates who have some peculiarity that, when looked at singly, makes them seem entirely crazy.
That all seems right, but I'm not sure it quite gets Obama off the hook. I don't think Obama should be judged per se because he's friends with Rev. Wright. Rather, it seems to me that his relationship with Wright at least illuminates something about Obama's social and political views. After all, according to Obama's own memoirs, it was the way that Wright connected the gospel to social and political critique that first really attracted him to Trinity. What's more, his membership in Trinity is but of a larger pattern, where Obama seems often to inhabit the most starkly left-wing precincts of our society. He does, as Zwicki notes, seem like quite the decent guy and, truth be told, I would probably rather have him as president than the junior senator from NY. But show me where he is friends with, regularly interacts with, and engages with some set of people who don't think The New Republic is some sell-out rag, and then I'll begin to think that maybe we should give him a bit of a pass on Wright. Otherwise, it's another piece to the puzzle that is Obama and the picture it shows ain't exactly to my liking.