Jeremiah Wright

Will the storm over Jeremiah Wright seriously hurt Obama's campaign--and ought it to? This is no trumped-up attack, easy to dismiss. (So much for the Clintons playing the race card.) The video clip that has attracted most attention expresses rage against whites and contempt for the country that Obama is asking to lead. Wright is not another Farrakhan--somebody Obama barely knows and whose endorsement he would rather not have. Wright has been Obama's spiritual mentor for many years: "The Audacity of Hope" is Wright's phrase, chosen for Obama's book as a homage to the man who coined it.

Here is Obama's response: first his statement on the subject, then an interview he gave to Fox.

Most importantly, Rev. Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor. And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn.

The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

Let me repeat what I've said earlier. All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn. They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country.

Obama does all right in the interview. (It is good that he laughs at one point at the questioner's comically portentous and inquisitorial demeanor. I thought that was funny too.) But does he bury the issue? By no means. His claim in the interview and in the statement that most of Wright's anger and (in my view) bigotry comes as news to him is just not credible. Tactically speaking, that is a transparent evasion, and will keep the problem alive.

But what I most want to know is why the Obama we thought we knew could hold this man in such esteem. Perhaps it is just a matter of loyalty to a father-figure, flaws and all--which is both understandable and, up to a point, admirable. But does Wright's bitter resentment in fact resonate with Obama, despite all appearances to the contrary? That is a question that will trouble a lot of less-than-fully-invested Obama supporters.

A subsidiary question--one I have been asking of myself--is why the most recent Wright videos seemed to come as such a shock, when neither Obama's close links to the pastor nor the preacher's views about the ongoing evil of white America were any secret. Here is an interesting take on that from Politico:

The fracas started Thursday morning, when ABC’s “Good Morning America” ran a Brian Ross expose on Wright that included old video of him saying: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God bless America’? No, no, no. Not God bless America. God [expletive] America.”

On Friday night, there was Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show” joshing: “McCain was running so fast from President Bush, he ran into Barack Obama, who was running from his minister.”

The story had burst onto the radar screen of average Americans with as much velocity as any other story during the 2008 campaign.

Political reporters and editors were inundated with e-mails from red-state friends and relatives wanting to know why the brouhaha wasn’t getting more instant and constant coverage from every news outlet.

To reporters who had followed the campaign, it was an old, oft-written story. But this time it had video of Wright saying things like “U.S. of K.K.K.A.,” available on YouTube and played endlessly by cable news channels.