Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama puts on the fire suit

One of the political hacks with whom I worked during my time as a legislative aide used a phrase one time that stuck with me. We were discussing a contentious issue that was coming up for a vote, and he mentioned that if a particular amendment was brought up and attached to the bill, he would have to "get out his poop suit" and come clean up after his clients -- the elected officials -- who were unable to avoid stepping in the mess.

It's unfortunate imagery, I know, but he had a point: Sometimes things get so messy, you almost feel like you have to handle them with gloves so as to avoid soiling yourself.

This weekend, it's Barack Obama reaching for the gloves.

In the last 48 hours, the story about Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and the racist and apparently anti-American remarks Wright made in past sermons have completely overtaken the presidential campaigns. The national media has seized upon the story with -- dare I say it? -- almost a religious fervor.

(If you missed the remarks, click here to read my post from Thursday afternoon.)

Obviously aware of the potential this issue has to consume his entire campaign, Obama is in the midst of a full-court press to repudiate/denounce/disassociate/comdemn Wright's remarks. He has submitted written statements to that effect as he has made the rounds on cable news networks. He gave a rare, wide-ranging interview to CNN's Anderson Cooper, remaining measured and polite, though firm, in his remarks. Cooper spent the balance of the hour -- about 30 minutes -- exploring the relationships between candidates and their endorsers and of politics and religion in general.

You have, no doubt, seen that e-mail about how Obama doesn't say the Pledge of Allegiance, he doesn't sing God Bless America, he turns his back on the flag, his anti-American sentiment lays just beneath the surface, he is Muslim, etc. If the religious and questions surrounding Obama's candidacy were flammable material, Wright poured gasoline all over them and ignited them with a flamethrower. Even Obama himself called the comments "inflammatory."

This is arguably the first major crisis the Obama campaign has faced, the first test of his ability to lead through crisis. Can he pull his campaign out of the conflagration? If not, all the talk about delegates, superdelegates, revotes and momentum may go up in smoke.