The Wright Stuff: McCain goes after Wright

Barack Obama has a rhetorical gift that allows him to convince audiences to believe in him and in his arguments, a blend of charisma, intelligence, and argument. It certainly worked on John McCain. Shortly after Obama declared that Jeremiah Wright was a “legitimate political issue,” McCain started criticizing Wright’s equation between Roman armies in Jerusalem and US Marines in Iraq:

Senator John McCain delved on Sunday into remarks made by Senator Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., saying it was “beyond belief” that Mr. Wright had likened the Romans at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion to the Marines and had suggested that the United States was acting like Al Qaeda under a different color flag.

Up to now, Mr. McCain had largely avoided talking about the incendiary views of Mr. Wright, saying he wanted to run a “respectful” campaign. He has even called on the North Carolina Republican Party to pull an advertisement that focuses on Mr. Wright.

But Mr. McCain took a different approach at a news conference here when he criticized Mr. Wright for, as the senator paraphrased him, “comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior, I mean being involved in that” and for “saying that Al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags.” …

Mr. McCain said that he did not believe that Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, shared those views and that he was still against the advertisement in North Carolina. But he suggested that Mr. Obama had made the subject fair play by declaring in an interview shown over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday” that questions about Mr. Wright were “a legitimate political issue.”

This turned into a thing of beauty, politically speaking. McCain had made high-profile arguments against using Wright as a campaign issue, which had annoyed people on the Right but played well with the centrists and independents McCain hopes to woo away from Democrats in the fall. After Obama made the mistake of calling the issue legitimate, McCain had the opening he needed, provided by a neophyte politician who failed to grasp the advantage he had until that moment. Even after that, McCain kept his arguments based on a defense of the Marines and the very obvious differences between the US and al-Qaeda, highlighting Wright’s rabid anti-Americanism while offering a sop to Obama’s patriotism.

Team Obama meanwhile tried to put the genie back in the bottle. They accused McCain of breaking a promise, although McCain’s earlier position hardly amounted to that. Besides, their own candidate acknowledged the legitimacy of the issue. Why shouldn’t McCain talk about legitimate political issues? McCain basically can respond by showing his Barack Obama Legitimacy Card every time the subject comes up — giving him credit for restraining himself and his allies until Obama approved it.

After last night’s NAACP speech, McCain has even more room to maneuver. Wright spent his time talking about differences; McCain can now start talking about what we all have in common. While Obama’s pastor reminds everyone that his Trinity United years, with Obama in attendance, focused on neurological buncombe to divide blacks and whites, McCain can unite Americans based on the American concepts of freedom and liberty. And thanks to Obama, McCain can specifically use Wright and TUCC as examples of the intolerance that holds us back.