Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is Wright looking for "revenge"?

This Op-Ed was in the NYTimes today.
April 29, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
The Pastor Casts a Shadow

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to Washington on Monday not to praise Barack Obama, but to bury him.

Smiling, cracking corny jokes, mugging it up for the big-time news media — this reverend is never going away. He’s found himself a national platform, and he’s loving it.

It’s a twofer. Feeling dissed by Senator Obama, Mr. Wright gets revenge on his former follower while bathed in a spotlight brighter than any he could ever have imagined. He’s living a narcissist’s dream. At long last, his 15 minutes have arrived.

So there he was lecturing an audience at the National Press Club about everything from the black slave experience to the differences in sentencing for possession of crack and powdered cocaine.

All but swooning over the wonderfulness of himself, the reverend acts like he is the first person to come up with the idea that blacks too often get the short end of the stick in America, that the malignant influences of slavery and the long dark night of racial discrimination are still being felt today, that in many ways this is a profoundly inequitable society.

This is hardly new ground. The question that cries out for an answer from Mr. Wright is why — if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks — does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency.

On Sunday night, in an appearance before the Detroit N.A.A.C.P., Mr. Wright mocked the regional dialects of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. I’m not sure how he felt that was helpful in his supposed quest to bring about a constructive discussion about race and reconciliation in the U.S.

What he is succeeding in doing is diminishing the stature of Senator Obama. A candidate who stands haplessly by as his former spiritual guide roams the country dropping one divisive bomb after another is in very little danger of being seen by most voters as the next J.F.K. or L.B.J.

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. Barack Obama went to Rev. Wright’s church as a young man and was blessed with the Christian bona fides that would be absolutely essential for a high-profile political career.

Faster than anyone could have imagined, the young Mr. Obama became Senator Obama and then the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Then came the videotaped sermons and the roof caved in on Rev. Wright’s reputation. Senator Obama had no choice but to distance himself, and he did it as gently as he felt he could.

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. What we’re witnessing now is Rev. Wright’s “I’ll show you!” tour.

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. Very little has changed in the superdelegate count, but a number of those delegates have expressed concern in private over Mr. Obama’s inability to do better among white working-class voters and Catholics.

Rev. Wright is absolutely the wrong medicine for those concerns.


my15minutes said...

Rev. Wright is most definitely hurting Obama with the voters Obama needs most to progress against Hilary Clinton (much less in the general election). And Obama is showing his inexperience in his handling of it.

Interesting that the Times articles mentions Catholics.... I don't think Obama will do well among Catholics because of his abortion/life issues stance (at least not among Catholics who are practicing ones!) He'd have to really minimize his positions there and come across strong on other moral issues (poverty, war, etc.) and common ground issues (economy, terrorism, etc) to stand a chance, I think.

Rachel said...

The effect of Rev. Wright's association with Obama is interesting to me because it reflects an idea that's been circulating here in Illinois for a long while--that Obama is where he is not primarily because of who he is or what he's done but also because of what others have made him into. In the Illinois Senate, for example, Obama had a reputation among some co-workers as being rather a lazy, indecisive, do-nothing; he'd sit around and listen (not a bad thing!) but then criticize everybody else's ideas without ever coming up with a better plan of his own. But then, come time for a bill to be presented, Democrat bigwigs would insist that Obama be included as a sponsor, even though he'd done very little of the work to create the bill. Whether the motivation was to take advantage of his popularity and high profile or to position him for bigger and better things, I don't know, but the effect was the creation of a perception with a life of its own quite apart from the reality or performance (or non-performance) of the man. That worked to Obama's advantage then; now the same thing is happening in the opposite direction--the Obama made by someone else (in this case Wright) is bigger than the real Obama. Which could mean that perceptions are really, really huge--or that Obama in himself is really, really small. I think if he doesn't find some way to stand out as separate from the perception Wright is creating, he proves himself to be too small to lead. Distancing and whining and casting as idiots those who are concerned by his association with Wright won't cut it; he's got to do more than react and respond, he's got to show himself as someone who can ACT.