Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is in a tough spot. His spiritual adviser, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who married him and his wife and who baptized his two children, has been caught on tape saying vicious, racist, and un-American things. Obama waited for as long as he could to publicly disagree with and condemn Wright’s off-the-wall and incendiary comments. Rev. Wright said that Sept. 11 was somehow the fault of America, and now “American’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
This is a guy who, in his sermon, which was widely distributed through YouTube and various Internet and cable TV sources, says blacks should not sing “God Bless America” but “God damn America.” This is a guy who actually told his congregation that the U.S. government somehow has tried to infect the African-American community with HIV/AIDS. Didn’t race-baiter Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan say the same thing?
Wright’s comments don’t have to be put in some “larger context.” The argument that the media is taking short excerpts out of a much larger rhetorical framework is a crock. He said these terrible things, and Obama has been part of his congregation for two decades.
Obama’s pathetic initial response when pressed by the media that he hadn’t been in church the day Wright made some of these comments is painfully lame. The fact that Obama did everything he could to avoid making a speech about Wright and the larger issue of race doesn’t make him look good. Obama’s powerful rhetoric about the possibilities and hope of what this country could be has inspired millions; and he’s inspired me. But he seems confused, and doesn’t look good in all this even though he made a compelling speech the other day on this subject.
We in the media are partly responsible. While we are finally starting to press Obama more, and hold him to the same high standard to which we hold everyone else who runs for president, he may have gotten the message that it may be enough to offer lofty rhetoric and run a great campaign without having to address legitimate controversies like the one involving Wright. It has become clear that when Obama is not speaking in front of 20,000 rabid supporters and in control of the message, he’s not as strong and confident as one would like.
Further, he’s very clear in his condemnation of the Clinton campaign, and implying they had something to do with the release of the photo of him in Muslim garb. He was also very clear and compelling in his condemnation of former congresswoman and Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro when she made ill-advised comments about Obama and his race. He was adamant that Ferraro had to go. I don’t think Ferraro’s comments were racist, but I think they were stupid and didn’t help Clinton, so she was gone.
The problem with Obama is that he is engaged in a dangerous double standard and he can’t be let off the hook on this. We don’t need complex explanations of why Wright became so hateful of this country and of whites. We don’t need a lecture from Obama about the history of racism in this country, and how people like Wright were mistreated before him. Clearly, these are painful and embarrassing facts of American life and history, but they don’t come close to excusing the bile and hatred coming from Obama’s spiritual adviser.
This thing isn’t going away anytime soon, and it shouldn’t because it's not simply about race, but about judgment and the courage to stand up and confront a longtime friend and supporter who is prominent and influential, and who has also been divisive and dangerous. Wright may have done good things for many poor people in Chicago, but this in no way excuses or explains what I and every other person in the media, as well as every interested American, saw on tape from his disgraceful sermons. It’s inexcusable. It’s unacceptable. While Obama isn’t responsible for those comments, his feigning ignorance that he wasn’t in the pew listening to Wright on a particular day, or that he didn’t know how bad Rev. Wright’s hateful rhetoric was makes him look very un-presidential.
Yes, this week offered another impressive speech again by Obama. But this time a great speech will not get it done. Leadership, candor, and consistency are what Obama must demonstrate in order to restore the faith that many have lost in him.
is an MSNBC analyst focusing on national politics and media issues. Write to Steve Adubato at .