Earlier this evening, I participated in a round table for Rick Moran’s Internet radio show on the Barack Obama attempt to distance himself from Jeremiah Wright. Finally, after several weeks of rationalizations and weak shrugs, Wright forced Obama to react after publicly embarrassing the Democratic front runner in two appearances within 24 hours. Did Obama’s denunciation today finally put his former pastor in his past? McClatchy wonders whether he succeeded:
Barack Obama essentially severed his friendship with his former pastor Tuesday, calling the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s speech a day earlier at the National Press Club “a show of disrespect to me” and saying it “directly contradicts everything that I’ve done during my life.”
Obama’s remarks in a televised news conference from North Carolina came as he responded to increasing pressure to distance himself from the racially divisive Wright in order to build trust with working-class white voters in his bid to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. He drew only about one-third of the white vote last week in Pennsylvania’s primary.
That trend has expanded in recent contests and troubles party insiders who are gauging which Democratic presidential candidate is likely to be strongest in November’s election. A new poll in North Carolina, which most analysts have all but given to Obama, showed his support eroding in recent days, with Clinton picking up 9 points among white Carolinians.
On Tuesday, the Illinois senator used words such as “divisive and destructive,” “ridiculous,” “outrageous” and “wrong” to describe the words of Wright, a man who was Obama’s pastor for two decades, performed his wedding and baptized his children. Obama also said he was “particularly angered” by Wright saying that Obama’s denunciation of some of Wright’s earlier remarks was only political posturing.
He said that Wright isn’t the same man he thought he knew 20 years ago and that some of Wright’s ideas have given “comfort to those who prey on hate.”
This revelation seems rather late in coming. Whether or not Obama heard much the same lunacy contemporaneous to Wright’s eruptions past years, Obama certainly had read all of the controversial remarks by March of this year. That included Wright’s conspiracy-theory lunacy that the government had created HIV as a genocidal tool aimed at people of color, one of the supposed camel’s-back straws that prompted his strong and passionate denunciation today.
Even given that material, Obama responded with a series of rationalizations in his Philadelphia speech on race that never really addressed the substance of Wright’s lunacy. Afterwards, he attempted to dodge Wright and his 20-year association with him — including giving over $20,000 in 2006 alone to Wright for his ministry. Unfortunately, Wright himself forced the issue by grabbing the spotlight like a starving man contemplating a trip to Sizzler’s All You Can Eat. Perhaps resentful of Obama’s relatively mild criticism in the Philadelphia speech, Wright upped the bet to a point where Obama had no choice but to fold.
Obama’s reluctance to address Wright definitively in his earlier opportunities made him look weak and vacillating. Today may have resolved that issue, but it still leaves people wondering how a man could associate with Wright for 20 years without understanding the depth of his hatred and bitterness, just as they wonder how Obama could work with William Ayers for several years and see him as nothing different than Tom Coburn or any other politician. It doesn’t address questions of judgment at all to finally act after being backed into a corner.
On the other hand, he did finally act, and did so to the best extent available now. In doing so, he has at least accomplished one important thing: he has vaccinated himself against further Wright eruptions. Having publicly broken with Wright, he makes anything Wright says from this point forward irrelevant. In fact, his press conference today has likely taken the national stage away from Jeremiah Wright and consigned him more or less to the margins.
This could eventually woo back some of the Democratic working-class whites who had abandoned him in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. However, Obama may still find himself in trouble with his own base of African-American voters, who may not appreciate the political imperative of throwing Wright under the bus. While they may not flock to Hillary Clinton, his actions could cause a deflation of the enthusiasm they had for Obama, who had asserted in March that he could no sooner repudiate Wright than he could repudiate the black community as a whole. That equation may come to mind now that Obama has finally done the former.
Watch North Carolina carefully next week, especially voter turnout. If Obama succeeded today, he should rebound to a solid double-digit win on Tuesday. If it gets close, and especially if he loses, watch out for the lifeboats going over the side of the SS Obama with the Democratic superdelegates.