March 18, 2008
Obama's Big SpeechBy Thomas Lifson
It does not speak well of his campaign's crisis management skills that Barack Obama has taken five days to wheel out his heavy artillery and give a speech today on Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and "the larger issue of race in this campaign" at a venue called the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Given the opportunity to carefully write and rehearse the delivery of a speech, Obama's verbal presentation skills shine. But talking on his feet, in a press conference or television interview, he is less persuasive.
Rather than get on top of the story, he has unconvincingly argued that he wasn't there when the bad things were said, that Wright is like a crazy uncle, and that we have to remember that the scars of the past have not healed for the older generation. Worst of all, his language has been transparently evasive, making him look like a man with something to hide.
Obama implicitly promised racial healing, which is exactly what makes his two decades of cleaving to the teachings of a raging racial hater so shocking. The visceral impact of hate-filled pastoral rants and congregants clapping as they leap to their feet utterly contradicts the promise of bringing us together.
How can Obama get out of his hole?
Given his skills and the amount of time he has available to prepare, he may well be able to sell a formula that will reassure enough of his supporters to avoid a collapse of his campaign. Shoring up the base is usually the first priority for any politician in crisis. That should get him into the convention with a solid lead among ordinary delegates. At that point, the fear of angering his constituency will probably ensure he gets the nomination.
Reaching the skeptics will be much, much harder. Thanks to the very qualities that made Pastor Wright a superstar preacher able to build a mega-church, the memory of his rants will linger in the minds of those who have seen his television performance. He is an arresting presence on screen, full of holy spirit, or anger, or whatever word comes to the beholder's mind.
So Obama needs to create a sense that this unpleasantness is best put aside. As much as possible, he needs to stigmatize those who would continue the conversation about Wright. In an interview with Gwen Ifill of Newshour on PBS, Obama gave a preview of this element of the formula:
There are many other things he can say to help end the focus on his inconvenient spiritual guide.
The Arsenal of arguments
The generational appeal
From his Gwen Ifill interview:
This blends into
Obama would be best advised to give the following wide berth. But perhaps an allusion might slip in:
It would be much better to inspire with the positive side:
Depending on whether or not Obama chooses to pursue the uncle analogy, he could opt to favor this phrase he has recently used for himself:
Trinity United Church of Christ
There is a good chance Obama will cite loyalty to his fellow congregants.
If he wants to really lay this on thick, he can return to:
this neatly segues into:
Black Liberation Theology
The candidate should steer clear of black liberation theology, the doctrine embraced by Pastor Wright and TUCC. He does not want the specifics examined. But he might add, as he has in the past, that Pastor Wright comes out of a theology embraced at prestigious seminaries, where the pastor has lectured.
The candidate must be very, very careful, but it is possible to inject a bit of victimization into his appeal. He gave a preview of this to Gwen Ifill:
Michael Crowley of The New Republic's blog The Stump lays out an even more compelling case for Obama to make, that Wright:
It is much safer to turn positive. Almost certainly toward the end, the candidate will seek to inspire. There are almost limitless possibilities for a man of his experience and skills. This is where he expects to close the sale with those amenable to rekindling the flames of hope. A brief sample of the types of appeals we might hear:
While a substantial majority of Americans earnestly seek to go beyond race, and would love nothing better than to elect a black president who could be of and for all Americans, many are also terrified of the attitudes they saw on the tape from TUCCC. The congregants as much as the minister don't sound or look at all like people who want to get beyond race.
Decent Americans have been trying for decades to eradicate racism. The scales are falling from their eyes as they see that some inner city preachers like Wright have been playing this game behind closed doors and fomenting racial hate.
Tarnishing the Obama halo
The overwhelmingly positive press coverage enjoyed by Obama is coming back to haunt him and his party. He was never adequately vetted by the media on Wright, even though American Thinker and a few other outlets have been warning about him for a year now. Lulled into a false sense of security, Obama failed to realize the explosive nature of the recordings when they were aired by Brian Ross on Good Morning America five long days ago.
When a politician claims to be all about a certain value, and then turns out to have been lying about it, Americans can be merciless. Ask Eliot Spitzer. In the same way that a prostitution ring-busting prosecutor can't frequent ladies of the night, a dealer in racial balm should steer away from racial grievance-mongers in his spiritual guides.
Obama is also now fully exposed as a phony, one way or the other. Michael Medved put it succinctly:
The sad thing about halos is they don't come with Teflon® coating. Barack Obama could use that trademarked fluoropolymer's most famous property, slipperiness. Instead, he may find that his embrace of Pastor Wright over the last two decades is not biodegradable.
Thanks to Clarice Feldman, Steve Gilbert, and especially Ed Lasky for their help with this article.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.