Common Cause chief assesses Pastor Wright

Common Cause chief assesses Pastor Wright

Common Cause chief assesses Pastor Wright

BY DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star

Thursday, Apr 03, 2008 – 12:32:13 am CDT

Bob Edgar is a man of many hats.

A pastor at 19, a member of Congress at 31.

Edgar represented a Pennsylvania district in the House for six terms, served as general secretary of the National Council of Churches from 2000 to 2007, became president of Common Cause last May.

No wonder the interview over coffee at The Mill on Wednesday moved so freely from the dominance of money in politics to the war in Iraq to Pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Let’s start where the conversation ended, with the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Sen. Barack Obama’s church.

“I understand Pastor Wright better than most,” Edgar said. “I have spent a lot of time in the historic black church. I know its rhetorical voice.”

That voice, he said, speaks in the context of racism, poverty and slavery.

The incendiary statements of Wright that ignited a firestorm in the Democratic presidential campaign when they raced on videos across YouTube and TV screens came out of that voice, Edgar said.

“If you listen to the whole of the text, you’re less offended,” he said.

“I would not have used those words, but I understand that voice.”

Martin Luther King Jr. also used that voice and sometimes “made people angry,” Edgar said, particularly when his remarks were taken out of context.

Wright’s words were “far less radical than Pat Robertson saying we should assassinate the president of Venezuela,” Edgar said.

“A lot of the religious right has said far more offensive things.”

As Common Cause president and CEO, Edgar is pushing for public financing of political campaigns to diminish the power and influence of special interests.

Fundamental reforms in health care and energy will not occur if pharmaceutical companies, medical lobbies, coal companies and the oil industry continue to call the shots, he said.

“We’ve allowed money to get out of hand,” he said.

“Washington follows,” Edgar said. “It doesn’t lead very well.”

And so the people, who already have demonstrated through their votes this year that they want change, must act, he said.

“We are the leaders we have been waiting for.”

Common Cause also is pushing for improved voting machine accuracy and security through the use of paper ballots or paper records that would be subject to audits.

Obama’s reliance on 1 million individual campaign donors, rather than special interest funding, is “a good thing,” Edgar said.

“But a better thing would be a public financing system.”

Common Cause believes all three major presidential contenders, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John McCain and Obama, would be supportive of meaningful campaign finance reform, Edgar said.

Edgar also has some ideas of his own.

Reform the presidential primary system, reduce the campaign to 12-to-15 months, make election day a holiday.

Register every American to vote at birth. Then they’re ready to vote when they become eligible at 18.

The war in Iraq is “creating more terrorists,” Edgar said.

“Take away the fertile ground for terrorism” by helping people climb out of poverty, he said, and open opportunities for them through educational assistance.

“And model democracy ourselves,” he said, “instead of tarnishing our image internationally” with violations of civil liberties in the name of battling terrorism.

Date: 4/3/2008 12:00:00 AM