Wright's antics cast shadow on Barack Obama's candidacy
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to Washington on Monday not to praise Barack Obama, but to bury him. Smiling, cracking corny jokes, mugging...
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to Washington on Monday not to praise Barack Obama, but to bury him.
Smiling, cracking corny jokes, mugging it up for the big-time news media — this reverend is never going away. He's found himself a national platform, and he's loving it.
It's a twofer. Feeling dissed by Obama, Wright gets revenge on his former follower while bathed in a spotlight brighter than any he could ever have imagined. He's living a narcissist's dream. At long last, his 15 minutes have arrived.
So there he was lecturing an audience at the National Press Club about everything from the black slave experience to the differences in sentencing for possession of crack and powdered cocaine.
All but swooning over the wonderfulness of himself, the reverend acts like he is the first person to come up with the idea that blacks too often get the short end of the stick in America, that the malignant influences of slavery and the long dark night of racial discrimination are still being felt today, that in many ways this is a profoundly inequitable society.
This is hardly new ground. The question that cries out for an answer from Wright is why — if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks — does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency.
On Sunday night, in an appearance before the Detroit NAACP, Wright mocked the regional dialects of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. I'm not sure how he felt that was helpful in his supposed quest to bring about a constructive discussion about race and reconciliation in America.
What he is succeeding in doing is diminishing the stature of Obama. A candidate who stands haplessly by as his former spiritual guide roams the country dropping one divisive bomb after another is in very little danger of being seen by most voters as the next JFK or LBJ.
The thing to keep in mind about Wright is that he is a smart fellow. He has been a very savvy operator, politically and otherwise, for decades. He has built a thriving, politically connected congregation on the South Side of Chicago that has done some very good work over the years. Powerful people have turned to him for guidance and advice.
So it's not like he's naive politically. He knows exactly what he's doing. Forget the gibberish about responding to attacks on the black church. That is not what the reverend's appearance before the press club was about. He was responding to what he perceives as an attack on him.
This whole story is about Obama's run for the White House and absolutely nothing else. Obama went to Wright's church as a young man and was blessed with the Christian bona fides that would be absolutely essential for a high-profile political career.
Faster than anyone could have imagined, the young Obama became a senator and then the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Then came the videotaped sermons and the roof caved in on Wright's reputation. Obama had no choice but to distance himself, and he did it as gently as he felt he could.
My guess is that Wright felt he'd been thrown under a bus by an ungrateful congregant who had benefited mightily from his association with the church and who should have rallied to his former pastor's defense. What we're witnessing now is Wright's "I'll show you!" tour.
For Obama, the re-emergence of Wright has been devastating. The senator has been trying desperately to bolster his standing with skeptical and even hostile white, working-class voters. When the story line of the campaign shifts almost entirely to the race-in-your-face antics of someone like Wright, Obama's chances can only suffer.
Beyond that, the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf.
Hillary Clinton is taunting Obama about his unwillingness to participate in another debate. Wright is roaming the country with the press corps in tow, happily promoting the one issue Obama had tried to avoid: race.
Obama seems more and more like someone buffeted by events, rather than in charge of them. Very little has changed in the superdelegate count, but a number of those delegates have expressed concern in private over Obama's inability to do better among white, working-class voters and Catholics.
Wright is absolutely the wrong medicine for those concerns.
Bob Herbert is a regular columnist for The New York Times.
2008, New York Times News Service
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