Imagine in 1999, that a videotape had come to light showing the pastor of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's church making vicious, hateful comments about America and cruel, racist statements about Americans of color.
Suppose this preacher had given a lifetime achievement award to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and had traveled to Europe with Duke to meet with neo-Nazi terrorists.
Now try to envision that the candidate's family had attended this church for more than twenty years, that George and Laura Bush had been married there, by this pastor, and that the Bush daughters had been baptized by him.
Picture George Bush titling his autobiography after a phrase in one of this minister's sermons, writing that the man was his mentor, and then putting him on the presidential campaign staff as a trusted advisor and confidant.
Say it came to light that for several years George W. Bush had been friends with Eric Rudolph, the notorious Olympic Park bomber and anti-abortion terrorist. Furthermore, let's suppose that Bush had remained friends with Rudolph over the years and still considered him a colleague today.
Now imagine Laura Bush, on the campaign trail for her husband, telling supporters and the national media that America is "mean" and that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country.
Is there a doubt that Republican officeholders would have run from the Bush campaign like rats from a burning barn, that he would have become the political leper of the 2000 campaign? And what about the media? They virtually crucified candidate Bush that year for daring to give a speech at Bob Jones University, which had once banned interracial dating. I cannot imagine the field day they would have had with something like this.
And yet excuses are made for Barack Obama, who now finds himself in exactly this situation. Obama's pastor of more than two decades - the man who married Barack and Michelle Obama, who christened their daughters, who inspired the title of the candidate's book, "The Audacity of Hope," - is now at the center of a storm that would have destroyed the candidacy of any Republican the day the story broke.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for the last 36 years, has been caught on tape denouncing the United States and the white race in terms that should shock and disgust every thinking American. Wright and the church swear allegiance to the "mother country" - Africa. (Presumably this includes the Obama family.)
Rather than trying to infuse his congregation with hope and encouragement, Wright poisons them with vitriol about how the U.S. government has tried to commit genocide against the black community using drugs and the AIDS virus as weapons of choice.
"Don't say God bless America," Wright screams in one sermon. "God da** America!"
Wright, representing the church, bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Louis Farrakhan, the racist leader of the Nation of Islam. In the 1980s, Wright traveled to Libya with Farrakhan to meet with Muammar Gaddafi.
If Barack Obama has not been paying attention in church, it is apparent that his wife, Michelle, has. Campaigning for her husband recently, she said that for the first time in her adult life, she is finally proud of her country. In a separate speech, she said America is "a mean country."
Obama is friends with William Ayers, an admitted domestic terrorist with the Weather Underground, which declared war on the United States and claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, including the Pentagon and the State Department building, in the 1970s. In an interview with The New York Times, ironically published on the morning of September 11, 2001, Ayers was quoted as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."
Now a tenured professor at the University of Chicago (only in America!), Ayers met Barack Obama in the 1990s. They have remained friends ever since.
We are judged not just by our words, but by the company we keep. The litmus test should not be whether or not everyone a candidate knows is ideal. That is an impossible standard. The true measure of a man is in his ability to choose friends with which he can be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder, not those about whom he must equivocate and for whom he must apologize.