One week ago Senator Barack Obama saw the writing on the wall. He knew he had to go into full-on cya mode and sit for as many interviews as humanly possible. He had to try to thwart the shock most people were feeling as they watched the videos played on television cable shows of this minister of his and the church services. Obama tried to pass it off as nothing unusual, nothing controversial. The public response? Not so fast, Senator Obama.
I will tell you I saw Rev. Jeremiah Wright interviewed by Sean Hannity on Fox News last April, 2007. Rev. Wright was questioned about the black supremacy mission statement of the church. All the revelations of the videos were not as much of a surprise to me as to some. The surprise to me was the fact that it took so long into the campaign for Obama's judgement of church families to be questioned. Were it not for the fact that the media is so deeply in the tank for Obama and only now must at least ask a few questions, the issue would have surfaced a long time ago.
Obama has never been vetted as a politician on a national level. This is the first crisis of note for his campaign to manage. To say he's been given a free pass by an adoring press, some even going so far as to admit their bias on air, is an understatement.
During the interviews on television last Friday night, whether it was the one I watched with Major Garrett on Fox News or the one after that I saw with Anderson Cooper on CNN, the story was the same. Obama said he was never present in the congregation when Rev. Wright was spewing forth with the hate speech, the racist rants, the anti-Semitic snarling against Israel. Obama said it was just a black church and nothing controversial. No one was believing this nonsense, but Obama stuck with the story.
Tuesday was the speech. THE SPEECH. Live from Philadelphia, Obama tried to stop the bleeding by speaking about all things race in this country. Our history as a nation. He almost accurately quoted the Constitution by beginning with "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union" as the opening line. He left out "of the United States" after' people' but that may be nitpicking. Maybe it's like wearing a flag lapel pin on a jacket, or placing your hand over your heart during the national anthem. Maybe it's whatever you feel like doing now. I don't know.
I printed out the speech after listening to it as it was delivered. I read and re-read all nine pages of it. Three times over the next couple of days. I was looking for 'it'. The it that brings us all together. The it that shows the good judgement of a mature man running for the highest office in the land. I didn't hear it during the speech. So, I read over the transcript a few times.
I didn't want to be offended by parts of the speech. The speech was well written and delivered. No surprise there. Obama is an eloquent speaker and can deliver a speech with much apparent sincerity. Offensive to me, however, were the parts where he said, "I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed." So, what wasn't controversial Friday night was by Tuesday morning. He wasn't in church to hear the remarks but he was.
He sounds like any run of the mill politician. He's run a campaign based on being above the fray. He's run a campaign claiming the ability to bring people together, to work with everyone, to lead with the gift of good judgement. If you were a loyal Obama supporter before the speech, you still are. If you weren't, you still aren't. If you were on the fence, you are now answering pollsters that you don't support Obama. His numbers are in free fall. There's plenty of time to stop the fall, of course. He'll still be the party's nominee. But the bloom is off the rose.
Obama has chosen not to be above the fray after all. He is not as crass as Hillary's campaign but it is there now - delivered smoothly and unapologetically. He brought into the speech Geraldine Ferraro and John McCain - "We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies." Intentionally or not, all of that implies a vote for Hillary or McCain would be a racist act. Only he can bridge the racial problems in this country. Just elect him.
I'll note here that McCain, just yesterday, suspended a campaign aide who posted a link to Rev. Wright's videos on his personal web site. McCain says he'll not run anything but a respectful campaign. He walks the walk.
There was this slap at conservatives/Republicans: "Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism."
And, he threw his white grandmother, still living, under the bus: ..."a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe." Well, that public airing of private talk from his own grandmother made me cringe.
And, at the end of the speech, for the first time and not in the script, he said the standard politician's God bless America. Was that to counteract Rev. Wright's God damn America remark? How are we to know?
He's just a run of the mill politician.
We have to question the judgement that allows an educated, ambitious, family man to remain in the pews of a church while his young daughters hear the race baiting, unpatriotic, hate speech of Rev. Wright. Wright performed the Obama marriage and baptised the two Obama daughters. Wright is called his spiritual advisor. His mentor. Like an uncle. Well, you can pick your advisers and mentors. You cannot pick your family. That is a big difference.
Obama knew Wright was a problem to a national campaign. He rescinded an invitation for Wright to stand with him as he announced his kick off to his Presidential bid in Springfield, Illinois but he prayed with him in private beforehand. What does that say? He brought Wright into the campaign as a member of his religious advisers. Only now is he taken off the committee. What does all that say?
He's a run of the mill politician.
Some Democrats, while insisting a candidate cannot be held responsible for the remarks of supporters, point to endorsements given to the McCain campaign, like Hagee in San Antonio and Rod Paisley in St. Louis. These Democrats say, well, what about those ministers? The difference is that none are McCain's ministers, McCain does not use them in advisory boards on this campaign and McCain does not have 20 year histories with them. Nor did he listen to their tapes as a college student.
During the 1980's, Oprah Winfrey joined Wright's church. When she left after disavowing his remarks, he publicly criticised her for leaving the church to the congregation.
Shelby Steele wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity. And anyway, wasn't this hatred more rhetorical than real?
But now the floodlight of a presidential campaign has trained on this usually hidden corner of contemporary black life: a mindless indulgence in a rhetorical anti-Americanism as a way of bonding and of asserting one's blackness. Yet Jeremiah Wright, splashed across America's television screens, has shown us that there is no real difference between rhetorical hatred and real hatred."
Yesterday on a Sports Radio show Obama said of his grandmother, "The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity. She doesn't . But she is a typical white person who, uh, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know, there's a reaction that's been bred into our experiences that don't go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it." Typical white person? What if John McCain said 'typical black person', or 'typical Asian person' or 'typical Hispanic person' in any sentence?
Today there is a photo of Rev. Wright with Bill Clinton in 1998 at a Prayer Breakfast. This photo is circulated by the Obama campaign. Before that they circulated one of Tony Rezko in a photo with Bill and Hillary at a Christmas White House reception. Any aides lose their jobs over these?
And, lost in all of this flap over Rev. Wright? Obama admitted that his involvement with Tony Rezko was much greater than he originally stated. Larger campaign contributions and more real estate help were given to Obama from Rezko. Obama wisely thought he better come clean now rather than later, what with Rezko on trial and records being public. May be a long summer for both of them.
Change? Above the fray? Uniter?