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Wright's Praise for Farrakhan Is ‘Ridiculous,’ Obama Says in Repudiating Pastor

By Daniel Treiman

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Barack Obama took off the gloves in going after his longtime pastor over his appearance yesterday at the National Press Club:

Here’s a short snippet:

When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me, they rightly offend all Americans, and they should be denounced.

Will Obama’s remarks put the Wright controversy behind him? Here’s the verdict from the partisan peanut gallery:

Obama booster Andrew Sullivan cheers:

That was a very impressive, clear and constructive re-framing of the core message of his candidacy; and a moment given to him by Wright. No one will ever be able to say that Obama threw his father-figure and pastor under the bus. We all know that the reverse happened. We also know that this clear repudiation of Wright’s toxic, indeed “ridiculous” views on AIDS, 9/11 and permanent immiseration of people of color could not have happened unless Wright had made it necessary. Skeptics may wonder whether Wright actually deliberately did Obama a favor. I doubt it. But a favor it unintentionally is.

Maybe God does bring good out of bad. Maybe these racial and cultural divides can help us understand how better to move beyond them. Cynics may scoff - and certainly will. They will parse every nuance and try to paint Obama as another cynical, positioning pol. I don’t believe it. He has more sincerity and integrity than the vast majority of politicians, more honesty, and more resilience in a very tough spot.

And today, we found that he can fight back, and take a stand, without calculation and in what is clearly a great amount of personal difficulty and political pain. It’s what anyone should want in a president. It makes me want to see him succeed more than ever. It’s why this country needs to see him succeed more than ever.

But Jennifer Rubin, an Obama critic at Commentary’s Contentions blog, jeers:

Barack Obama has finally, finally thrown Reverend Wright under the proverbial bus. How low did the poll numbers go? How many superdelegates had to warn him? What finally changed his mind? Because, as anyone following the story knows, Wright has been remarkably consistent. His sermons, his NAACP speech and his performance at the National Press Club are all of one piece: ranting, anti-white, anti-American. So we now have some questions to ponder.

Is Obama going to stick with the “I am the worst judge of character on the planet” excuse? After all, if millions of non-congregants could figure out Wright, why couldn’t he? And if the issue now is not “Does Obama believe all this loony Wright inspired stuff?” but “Has he been duplicitous?”, then what happens to his Agent of Change, post-racial-uniter routine? Will this be enough to push some Democrats (like the Edwards duo) over the edge and conclude: Enough? (Certainly many Democrats must be wondering what they would be in for in a general election contest with him.)

In the end, the chickens did come home to roost. Just not the ones Wright had in mind.

The first round of online commentary, reacting to Wright’s National Press Club remarks (before Obama had responded), also featured some interesting takes:

On the excellent new black-oriented online journal The Root, former Time columnist Jack White writes that Wright’s latest antics confirm his view of the preacher as “a loud-mouthed extremist” — and asks whether he’s purposely trying to torpedo his congregant’s campaign. Also on The Root, Princeton academic Melissa Harris-Lacewell — who has previously stood up for Wright — compares the pastor to the biblical Jonah, swallowed up not by a whale, but by a political campaign.

To my surprise, Ari Berman, who covers the campaign for the left-wing magazine The Nation, expressed concern that Wright’s latest round of remarks could hurt Obama. “Ten days before important primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, the re-emergence of Wright was the last thing Obama needed–and a gift from heaven to Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party,” he wrote. Why is this fairly conventional analysis surprising? Because when video of Wright’s pulpit rants first hit the airwaves back in March, here’s what Berman had to say: “Wright has always been an outspoken maverick and some of his words will likely turn some voters off, although these are probably people who would never vote for a Democrat anyway.” (I guess Berman came to the belated realization that some Democrats actually do take exception to the phrase “God Damn America,” after all.)

While many commentators are now focused on how Obama’s latest response to Wright will play with the electorate in general, more specifically there’s a question of how they’ll play with black voters in particular. Politico’s Jonathan Martin notes that some of black America’s leading lights were in Wright’s corner a the National Press Club, and cites a Republican adman who suggests that trouble may be brewing for Obama with the African-American community’s “old guard.” Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan notes that the Rev. Al Sharpton is already attacking Obama over the Illinois senator’s response to New York’s Sean Bell shooting verdict. The question now is: How will Obama’s repudiation of Wright — a figure with significant support in at least some segments of the black community — play with the candidate’s black base?


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