Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Perfect timing

Obama chose today to reject his pastor of 20 years.

Today, Obama repudiated Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor whom Bob Herbert described as being on an “I’ll show you!” tour. Herbert also emphasized a few points--although portraying the pastor in an unflattering light--about Wright:

The thing to keep in mind about Rev. Wright is that he is a smart fellow. He’s been a very savvy operator, politically and otherwise, for decades. He has built a thriving, politically connected congregation on the South Side of Chicago that has done some very good work over the years. Powerful people have turned to him for guidance and advice.

So it’s not like he’s na├»ve politically. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Forget the gibberish about responding to attacks on the black church. That is not what the reverend’s appearance before the press club was about. He was responding to what he perceives as an attack on him.

This whole story is about Senator Obama’s run for the White House and absolutely nothing else.... ...My guess is that Mr. Wright felt he’d been thrown under a bus by an ungrateful congregant who had benefited mightily from his association with the church and who should have rallied to his former pastor’s defense....

...For Senator Obama, the re-emergence of Rev. Wright has been devastating. The senator has been trying desperately to bolster his standing with skeptical and even hostile white working-class voters. When the story line of the campaign shifts almost entirely to the race-in-your-face antics of someone like Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama’s chances can only suffer.

Beyond that, the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf.

Hillary Clinton is taunting Mr. Obama about his unwillingness to participate in another debate. Rev. Wright is roaming the country with the press corps in tow, happily promoting the one issue Mr. Obama had tried to avoid: race.

Mr. Obama seems more and more like someone buffeted by events, rather than in charge of them. [Emphasis added.]

Not so fast! Obama struck back:

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Sen. Barack Obama today strongly criticized the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, saying that Wright's comments about the United States in recent days have been "appalling" and "outrageous."

Using his sharpest language yet to describe a series of Wright performances that he said left him angry and sad, Obama accused Wright of exploiting racial divisions at the same time the Illinois senator is aiming to heal them and bring the nation together.

"When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it," Obama told reporters in firm and somber tones. "It contradicts everything I'm about and who I am. Anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign is about I think will understand it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country."

Obama, calling reporters together for the second time in 24 hours to address an issue that threatens to weaken his campaign, said he decided to speak out after watching videotape of Wright's theatrical performance at the National Press Club, where he attacked the U.S. government and Obama alike....

..."I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding. To insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings. That's who I am," Obama said.

"Yesterday, we saw a very different vision of America," he went on. "I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. . .There has been great damage," Obama said. "I do not see the relationship being the same after this." [Emphasis added.]

It's seemed odd to me that Wright chose the past few days to defend his brand of theology and himself in a highly-visible manner. Why not wait until after the election? What was the rush? Why provide more fodder to add to inflammatory sound bites that could come back to haunt Obama? It didn't make sense, since after all, Wright understood that Obama was a politician. He had predicted in an interview more than a year ago, "If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. . . I said it to Barack personally, and he said, 'Yeah, that might have to happen.' "

Barry needed to rid himself of a longtime association that's hurt him politically. He needed to remove the potential damage that could be inflicted in a fight with McCain. Wright's media blitz followed by Obama's rejection today brought the controversial relationship to a head, their ties now officially severed.

With upcoming primaries and questions about Obama's electability that could affect superdelegate decisions, the break between candidate and pastor was perfectly timed, no?

IMAGES: Montage comprised of AP photos by Jae C. Hong, an Obama campaign image, AP photo of Rev. Wright by J. Scott Applewhite, and stock imagery.