Analysis: Wright does Obama little good
After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama had hoped was dying down.
“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” Wright told the Washington press corps Monday. “It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.”
Wright’s tour couldn’t come at a much worse time for Obama, who is campaigning for white working class voters in Indiana and North Carolina. Many of Wright’s most controversial comments are angry condemnations of the United States for its treatments of blacks — thoughts that were applauded by the black church leaders in his audience Monday but risk offending white voters.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Monday suggests the Wright controversy may be hurting Obama among whites. His Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing better than Obama among whites in head-to-head matchups with John McCain. Among white respondents, Clinton gets 43 percent to McCain’s 48 percent. Obama gets 38 percent to McCain’s 51 percent.
Obama said Monday, after Wright’s latest comments, “None of the voters I talk to ask about it. There may be people who are troubled by it and are polite and not asking about it. It’s not what I hear.”
“I have said before and I will say again that some of the comments Rev. Wright has made offend me and I understand why they have offended the American people. ... Certainly what the last three days indicates is we’re not coordinating with him.”
Wright showed no concern for how he might be affecting the presidential race. He suggested Obama was distancing himself only because of political motivations while he, the former pastor, was trying to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.
“If Sen. Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected. Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls,” Wright said. “Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors, they have a different person to whom they’re accountable. Whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th.”
Although many of the clips of Wright that have been dogging Obama’s campaign were from sermons that were several years old, the pastor repeated some of the same ideas for television cameras Monday.
He criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. “Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” he said Monday.
Asked whether he owed the American people an apology, some in the supportive crowd shouted, “No!” Wright argued that his fiery nature was appropriate since the United States has never apologized for slavery or racism.
The North Carolina Republican Party is airing an ad that shows Wright with Obama and says the candidate is “too extreme for North Carolina.” All three presidential candidates are talking about that ad to criticize one another.
Obama’s campaign says McCain isn’t doing enough to get it off the air. McCain himself responded that he’s told the state officials to take it down and there’s nothing more he can do.
“I am not going to be a referee,” McCain told reporters at a news conference in Miami Monday. “I have made my position very clear on this issue. And I do not believe that Sen. Obama shares Reverend Wright’s extreme statements or views, whichever they be.”
Clinton used the issue to make a double swipe — saying she thinks McCain could do more to stop the ads, while reminding voters that she would never have a pastor like Wright.
“I would not have stayed in that church under those circumstances, but I regret the efforts by Republicans to politicize this matter,” she told reporters while campaigning in North Carolina.
As Obama has grappled with how to respond to Wright’s most controversial statements, he has described him as akin to an uncle who sometimes says things you don’t agree with. He seemed reluctant to disavow his longtime pastor, although Wright didn’t extend the same courtesy to Obama.
“I said to Barack Obama last year, ‘If you get elected, November the fifth, I’m coming after you because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people,”’ Wright said.