The 'Wright Stuff:' Examining the Jeremiah Wright election

With its front page story last week detailing Mitt Romney’s pranks as a prep student nearly half a century ago, the Washington Post proved that there is no statute of limitations on old political news.

Which is what makes new revelations about Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor so important. In 2008, John McCain forfeited one of his most powerful arguments against Obama by refusing to raise Obama’s 20-year relationship with anti-American pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Mitt Romney should not repeat that mistake.

Last week the New York Times reported that a conservative super PAC was considering running a $10 million ad campaign to, according to a strategy report obtained by the Times, “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do” in 2008. The plan was to inform the public about Obama’s long-time spiritual advisor’s incendiary comments and views.

“The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” the proposal stated.

But since the Times story, the plan has been axed, and the Romney campaign has distanced itself from it. “I want to make it very clear, I repudiate that effort,” Romney said at a press conference late last week. “I think it’s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the futures and about issues and about a vision for America.”

But Romney’s clear rejection was not enough for the Obama campaign, which accused Romney of violating the unwritten rules of the 2008 campaign by not sufficiently rejecting the planned campaign.

“Today, Mitt Romney had the opportunity to distance himself from his previous attempts to inject the divisive politics of character assassination into the presidential race,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in an email to reporters last Thursday. “It was a moment that required moral leadership, and once again he didn’t rise to the occasion.”

But I don’t remember the Obama campaign complaining about “character assassination” when the liberal media dug up old accounts of Mitt Romney’s childhood pranks and alleged bullying. I don’t remember liberals crying foul when in 2008 the Times reported with no evidence that McCain had had an affair with a female lobbyist.

Raising Obama’s relationship with Wright is not “character assassination.” It’s doing the job the mainstream media refuses to do: to inform voters of an important and still under-examined part of Barack Obama’s more recent past.

In the just-released book The Amateur, Edward Klein interviews many of Obama’s former friends and colleagues, including Wright, and concludes, “Jeremiah Wright became far more than a religious and spiritual guide to Obama; he was his substitute father, life coach and political inspiration wrapped in one package. At each step of Obama’s career, Wright was there with practical advice and counsel. Wright encouraged Obama to make a career of politics, and he offered to hook up Obama with members of Trinity United Church of Christ who had money and important connections.”

Klein learns that Wright believes Obama attended Trinity for political, not spiritual, reasons. “What I remember,” Wright tells Klein about his first meeting with Obama, “is that he came to talk to me as a community organizer, not in search of Christ.”

“[E]ven after Barack and Michelle came to the church, their kids weren’t raised in the church like you raise other kids in Sunday school. No. Church is not their thing. It never was their thing…So the Church was not an integral part of their spiritual lives after they got married.”

“But,” Wright says, “the church was an integral part of Barack’s politics –because he needed that black base.”

Klein also learns that a friend of Obama’s tried to bribe Wright into not speaking out during the campaign. “After the media went ballistic on me,” he tells Klein, “I received an email offering me money not to preach at all until the November presidential election.’”

Here’s part of Klein’s transcript:

“Who sent the email?” I asked Wright.

“It was from one of Barack’s closest friends.”


He named him.

“He offered you money?”

“Not directly,” Wright said. “He sent the offer to one of the members of the church, who sent it to me.”

“How much money did he offer you?”

“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Wright goes on to tell Klein that Obama visited him privately at the parsonage of Trinity to try and persuade him not to speak up. At one point, Obama says, “Do you know what your problem is? You have to tell the truth.”

The truth?

Wright preached a theology founded on the idea that blacks had been and will always be victims of whites. He believed that “racism is how this country was founded,” and that “we’re [the U.S. government] the same as al-Qaeda.”

He is anti-Israel, screamed  “G-d damn America” and explained 9-11 as America’s “Chickens coming home to roost.”

Klein’s account suggests Obama felt he had to disassociate himself from his pastor not because Wright is an anti-Semitic, race-baiting, America hater—but because he is too willing to speak “the truth.”

The Obama campaign would have us believe that raising all of this amounts to “character assassination.” But “the truth” is that voters have a right to know more about the man who presided over the president’s wedding, the baptism of his children, and who was his mentor and the inspiration for his campaign book, The Audacity of Hope. Does Obama’s relationship with Wright explain his own anti-Israel policies and his repeated attempts to divide America by class and race?

Romney’s advisors are no doubt telling him that talking about Wright is risky because Obama remains personally popular with many voters.

But it’s reasonable to assume that part of the reason Obama remains popular despite his record is that there has been so little discussion of Obama’s past and his ties to corrupt characters, including Wright.

Regarding the Wright situation in 2008, Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, has written, “I felt like the wheels could spin off our whole venture.” McCain’s refusal to raise Obama’s relationship with Rev. Wright may have cost him the presidency in 2008.

It should be fair game in 2012.