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.
I'm not sure that we benefit from continuing to perpetuate the anger and the bitterness that I think, at this point, serves to divide rather than bring us together. And that's part of what this campaign has been about, is to say, let's acknowledge a difficult history, but let's move forward in a practical way to get things done.
The Arsenal of arguments
The generational appeal
From his Gwen Ifill interview:
...you have also cast this as a generational distinction, the sorts of things that Reverend Wright said being the baggage of fiercely intelligent African-American men of his generation
This blends into
Healing old wounds
Wright's anger came from pain and a pain that he will, with the help of my fellow Americans, heal. Out this regrettable controversy, drummed up by opponents anxious to caricature a man in pain, can come healing, if only good Americans align themselves with hope.
Obama would be best advised to give the following wide berth. But perhaps an allusion might slip in:
Jeremiah Wright suffered as a black man. We owe him a generosity of spirit
It would be much better to inspire with the positive side:
The appeal to America's generosity
When it comes to forgiveness, Americans are soft touches. Jesse Jackson's speech at the DNC after the Hymietown comments ("God is not finished with me, yet")
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:
The "Bonehead move" excuse
He could hold Wright up as someone who "made a bonehead" move
Remember, this excuse bought Obama some time with the Rezko scandal, his other looming trouble. He could even say that America is right to be upset about some of the things Pastor Wright said, and can aver that he seeks to help members of that generation to get over their pain. That would be an example of he can unite Americans.
Trinity United Church of Christ
There is a good chance Obama will cite loyalty to his fellow congregants.
The Community ties appeal
He stayed out of loyalty to friends; he was close to his fellow parishioners, who acted as an extended family, and who he felt enriched his life and the lives of his family. America will like that line. Every community has members who may be controversial
If he wants to really lay this on thick, he can return to:
this neatly segues into:
The family analogy
As Wright was like an uncle to him, TUCC is like a family, and you don't leave an extended family.
Let the healing process work
Just as the church has turned a new page with a new Pastor replacing Wright, so should we. We all must move forward and work together to heal the wounds of a bitter history.
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:
I think it would have been naive for me to think that I could run and end up with quasi-frontrunner status in a presidential election, as potentially the first African-American president, and that issues of race wouldn't come up any more than Senator Clinton could expect that gender issues might not come up.
Michael Crowley of The New Republic's blog The Stump lays out an even more compelling case for Obama to make, that Wright:
...lays bare a very grim truth: That even middle-class black American culture is more angry and alienated than most whites understand, and that our country is simply not yet at the point where even an ostensibly post-racial black candidate can escape that dynamic entirely. (Indeed not only was Wright perfectly acceptable to Obama and his Chicago circle, but it seems likely that it would have been difficult for Obama to separate himself from the preacher had he wanted to, lest he be accused of not being an "authentic" member of the south side black community.)
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:
- Let's get beyond this so American can fulfill the grand dream promised by our founding fathers come true-a promise that our great Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy worked towards and paid with their lives
- We can fulfill a promise that Martin Luther King -- along with many white of goodwill --worked to fulfill. That spirit still lives, still beats in the better part of our hearts, the more noble of our emotions, our better angels.
- We need to release this energy and build upon the greatness that our forefathers have given us. Just as mistakes were made by other leaders but did not prevent their own good works, so we should accept his request for forgiveness and give him another chance. America loves second chance stories.
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:
Hey, Barack---it's either one or the other: either you were lying when you talked about your deep, soul-changing involvement in Trinity United Church of Christ, or else you're lying when you say you never had any idea (until last week) about the crazy and offensive and sickening contents of the pastor's diatribes from the pulpit.
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.