Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Wright is everywhere

What's going on with Jeremiah Wright?

Wright spent weeks in near-isolation, canceling many appearances in guest pulpits across the country as those omnipresent clips of his sermons played out, nearly 24/7, on cable news and the web.

Now, over the past week, he has gone from near invisible to being ubiquitous. He's everywhere.

He emerged with an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers on Thursday; Sunday night, he gave the keynote speech at the NAACP dinner in Detroit; this morning, he appeared at the National Press Club.

(Click here for one-stop coverage from the Detroit Free Press on Wright's appearance at the $150-a-head NAACP dinner. Page includes forward and follow-up stories, video clips of Wright's speech in its entirety and other related items.)

At each of these appearances, Wright has made a series of characteristically controversial statements -- including an argument, made to the NAACP, against applying the same educational standards to young black students as are applied to young white students -- that he has mixed with comments about his dreams for racial reconciliation, healing, etc.

After Barack Obama has spent the last six weeks explaining his relationship with Wright and fending off and responding to criticism over some of Wright's most controversial statements (including that the federal government might have created HIV to destroy the black population), Obama seemed on the cusp of finally putting the powder keg that is this issue behind him.

Then, Wright's media tour began, and those clips started running all over again. But this time, there were new ones, like his education argument, that serve to give voters pause about Obama's judgment all over again.

Why does Wright choose this time, the last week, to go on the media offensive? He has mentioned a book that he is writing, but it won't be available until the fall, so it can't be to plug his product. Perhaps it's to publicize a coming summit on racial issues that will be taking place at his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and other churches across the country in the next few weeks.

On Chris Wallace's show yesterday, Obama demurred when asked what he thought of Wright's media tour, saying he understood why Wright felt the need to defend himself but stopping short of endorsing his former pastor's efforts.

If you think you're sick of seeing Wright everywhere you look, imagine how Obama must feel. Everyone knows that whatever Wright's reasons for reappearing, the reality is that the more we see of Jeremiah Wright, the worse it is for Barack Obama.

I watched his speech last night and much of his remarks this morning and wondered about the enigma that is the fiery pastor. He is charismatic and engaging, yet he borders many times on hostile. He claims the words of the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ, but he mocks with sardonic, unapologetic disdain his critics in the media. Obviously an learned man whose education enables him to speak with incredible clarity and passion, he argues against ensuring those same standards of education for black youth.

I was talking with someone about this subject this weekend, and we agreed that the greatest irony in all this talk about race relations would be if a black pastor ended up being the reason this nation doesn't have its first black president in 2009.