"If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me," Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright told The New York Times. "I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen."
That was reported in a front page story in April 2007, and, since then, Rev. Wright's "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian" sermons have been an ongoing and controversial topic on cable news and the major newspapers. After videos surfaced last week of sermons by the Rev. Wright on topics including the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Hillary Clinton, Obama was finally forced to distance himself from Wright's words, remove his long-time from an advisory role with the campaign, and, conduct a virtual damage control tour Friday night before friendly audiences at CNN, MSNBC, and The Huffington Post. Speaking to two Chicago newspapers, Obama described Wright as a product of the often "violent and racially divisive '60s and ... stuck in a time warp." Once again, the Democratic presidential nomination is about the sixties.
To stem the growing tide, Obama announces he will make a "major" speech tomorrow in Philadelphia. "I am going to talking not just about Rev. Wright, but the larger issue of race in this campaign," he tells reporters, and, the campaign promises this will be a major opportunity to "bring the country together."
Looking at the huge media firestorm that was created and some of the thousands of comments on progressive blogs, its clear the Obama's campaign underestimated the impact of Rev. Wright would have on middle America and rank and file Democrats. (FYI: We reported last year at The Advocate (PDF) that unlike most other black megachurches, Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ are welcoming to gays and lesbians.) The new, overnight Rasmussen poll finds only 8 percent of the country has a positive opinion of Rev. Wright's sermons, more than 73 percent say they are racially divisive, and, most importantly, a whopping 56% say "Wright’s comments made them less likely to vote for Obama." Very very not good. Addressing the 20-year-old relationship with Wright will be difficult territory to navigate and Trinity's claims of race-related "character assassination" and an "attack" on the black church only make it worse.
It may be too late. Obama has to put this behind him and quell the growing unrest about his religion, his background and his patriotism—which is an unfortunate by-product of branding himself as an "empty vessel" and all things to everyone. Certainly Obama does not share many of these beliefs but the incendiary sermons, language and oratory only feed the growing narrative that Obama is something "other" and to be feared and further alienates the blue collar, white vote that he has not been attracting so far and must receive in November. Is this a fatal blow for Obama's campaign? No, not in the primaries. but this will not go away and will become a major issue in the general election. The commercials write themselves.
A Candidate, His Minister, and Search for Faith [NYT]
Obama Plans Speech on Race [Boston Globe]
Obama Blames 60s For Pastors Comments [Tribune]
Just 8% Have Favorable Opinion of Wright [Rasmussen]
An "Attack" on the Church [Marc Ambinder]
Barack Obama: On My Faith and My Church [HuffPo]
Clinton Supporters Hardening Against Obama [Taylor Marsh]
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