Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama: Wright is wrong

Barack Obama weighed in on the Jeremiah Wright Traveling Media Carnival this afternoon, calling remarks his former pastor made at the National Press Club yesterday "divisive," "destructive" and "appalling."

I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me ...

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that’s what we should be talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.
(Full transcript of the news conference here.)

Right-wing radio was aflame with feigned surprise, mocking with incredulity that Obama was "just coming to know" the real Jeremiah Wright. They all but accused him of lying about Wright and his extremist positions. Rush Limbaugh said Obama didn't throw Wright under the bus; he had "blasted (Obama) off the planet." He then went on to rue the way the "drive-by media" would excuse Obama's late arrival to today's strong position and characterize his outrage as courageous.

Conspiracy theorists are in overdrive. The New York Daily News broke the story that a Clinton supporter helped arrange Wright's appearance at the NPC yesterday (an NPC spokesman said the connection was chance, not conspiracy), while former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speculated that Wright continues to make a spectacle (Obama's word) of himself and this controversy to purposely damage Obama's campaign.

So what does this mean to Obama? Conspiracy or no, one week from tonight we'll be hearing election results from North Carolina and Indiana. Conventional wisdom holds that Obama wouldn't have reacted to Wright's latest performance, thus keeping it in the news, unless internal polls showed that it was critical to do so. At this point, it's almost a question of what will hurt less: ignoring Wright and hoping he'll go away, or lancing the boil at the expense of renewing the news cycle.

There's a segment of the population that will never forgive Obama for his association with Wright and always attribute Wright's statements to Obama. Right-wing radio, of course, is part of this group. They were busy today vilifying Obama for not disavowing Wright sooner, not leaving the church sooner, not rejecting his earlier comments in a stronger way, etc. For them, whatever Obama does will always be too little, too late.

And there are Obama apologists who would explain it away even if Obama had stood by everything Wright ever said.

The question is, how much room is there in the middle -- not only of the Democratic Party, but of the nation as a whole?

That's the question delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be trying to figure out over the next two months.