Obama and Wright: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

His campaign mired in the controversy, Sen. Barack Obama called a news conference yesterday in North Carolina to address Monday’s outlandish National Press Club speech by his former pastor and longtime friend, Rev. Jeremiah Wright .

Wright — having seen some of the political dust settling after Obama’s massively-hyped “race” speech several weeks ago — seemed eager to re-ignite the debate about Obama’s connections to him and the many anti-American and racist comments in his sermons that had been published.  Wright’s media tour — including an NAACP speech, a  high profile interview with Bill Moyers and headlining the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. yesterday in Washington — focused the national media’s attention on Wright and Obama, taking Hillary Clinton and John McCain almost off the air.

Instead of soothing the ears of the public — who Obama said previously had seen Wright unfairly characterized in only sound bytes — Wright confirmed his former statement that America brought on the 9/11 attacks (by “do[ing] terrorism on other countries”) and that the American government created the AIDS virus in attempt to exterminate blacks (“I believe the American government is capable of anything.”)

The unfettered anti-white rhetoric that Wright continues to spew in the name of the “black church” and what he called “black liberation theology” has pushed Obama to distance himself further from the man he only recently called an “uncle.”

Clearly distressed at the press briefing yesterday, Obama repeated his denunciation of Wright’s “offensive” comments from church sermons and recent speeches. In his press conference yesterday — with an inartfulness which has become a recent characteristic — Obama specifically denounced Wright’s recognition of Louis Farrakhan as “one of the most important voices of the 20th century” and said Wright’s comments were “antithetical to our campaign.”

When the Wright controversy erupted earlier this year, Obama went great lengths to establish his relationship with Wright as close and important, even though he did not agree with everything Wright said. Obama claimed never to have heard the particular comments in question — “God-Damn America” and the “US of KK A” specifically — when he was attending church. 

However, in his speech at the Press Club, Wright announced that the only reason Obama had distanced himself was because he was “saying what a politician had to say” in order to get elected.

Obama indicated that he had taken offense at Wright’s implicit accusation of dishonesty and said that his relationship with Wright has obviously “changed” — though he still will not separate himself completely. Obama’s challenge to expertly explain away his connection to Wright was a failure as he stuttered and grasped for words, proving again how uneasy he is when it comes to answering tough questions. This was first demonstrated during the recent Democrat debate on ABC and again in his post-Pennsylvania primary speech.

Though he said Wright had “disrespect[ed]” him, Obama spoke of many helpful sermons he had heard at Trinity United Church over the years.

“I continue to believe that Reverend Wright has been a leader in the South Side,” Obama said. “I think that the church he built is outstanding. I think that he has preached in the past some wonderful sermons. He provided, you know, valuable contributions to my family.”

But Obama adamantly dismissed the majority of Wright’s remarks. Obama called Wright’s recent rants “appalling” and “outrageous”, stating that they “contradict everything that I am about and who I am."

He said, “the person that I saw yesterday was not the person I met 20 years ago,” though he did not clarify how he accepted Wright until now, when his prospects for the presidency are in jeopardy. 

“I don’t think that he showed much concern for me,” said Obama. “I don’t — more importantly — I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign.”

Wright has seized the media spotlight to the detriment of Obama’s campaign.  By yesterday’s press conference, Obama was hoping to put the issue behind him, and be able to press on with his North Carolina and Indiana campaigns before next Tuesday’s primaries.  Was Tuesday’s presser enough to accomplish that?

Probably not.  As long as Wright is grabbing air time, the media will let him. And he will remain a millstone tied around Obama’s neck.