The Los Angeles Times’ Web site reported yesterday that campaign officials had had concerns about Jeremiah Wright’s fiery rhetoric for at least a year: In a Sunday conference call, Obama campaign manager David Axelrod admitted that the campaign recognized Wright as a potential problem more than a year ago and had disinvited the pastor from giving the invocation at the announcement of Obama’s presidential candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007, in Springfield, Ill. The Times also noted that Oprah Winfrey, a prominent Obama supporter, had joined Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ but later withdrew her membership due to disagreement with Wright’s preachings. Oprah, it turns out, had better political instincts than her candidate. Obama’s campaign was guilty of malpractice. If you think you have a problem, you have to get out in front of it. You have to define yourself before the other side can define you. The obvious solution was for Obama to leave the congregation and express deep regret. When Lloyd Bentsen ran for president in 1988, he resigned from three “exclusive” private clubs. You can’t run for president and be associated with a club, or a church, that preaches or practices discrimination. Instead, the campaign dilly-dallied until the inevitable happened and Wright’s anti-American remarks were all over the Internet. Then they had to improvise the lame response that Obama wasn’t in attendance on the days when Wright made his controversial comments. Obama fashioned an amazing persona for himself, one that millions of people believed in. The problem for Obama was that people knew the persona, but they didn’t really know much about the person. The campaign’s duty was to protect the believability of that image. They didn’t do it. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote about this problem in a January op-ed piece. These are the first and last paragraphs. Barack Obama is a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama’s spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright’s daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said “truly epitomized greatness.” That man is Louis Farrakhan. ….I don’t for a moment think that Obama shares Wright’s views on Farrakhan. But the rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle. The New York Times recently reported on Obama’s penchant while serving in the Illinois legislature for merely voting “present” when faced with some tough issues. Farrakhan, in a strictly political sense, may be a tough issue for him. This time, though, “present” will not do. That Jeremiah Wright has become a major problem for Barack Obama is not a racial issue. It is a political issue. The issue is: Is Barack Obama who he says he is? John McCain will face the same issue for pandering to The Reverend John Hagee, who believes that Jews brought anti-Semitism on themselves and that God visited Hurricane Katrina upon New Orleans in retribution for the city’s tolerance of gays. But the issue poses less of a threat for McCain than it does for Obama, because we have a much more complete picture of McCain than we do of Obama. Now Obama is on the defensive. He is going to have to put himself under the microscope in a major address in Philadelphia tomorrow on the subject of his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. At the very least, he has been knocked off message for four days. No doubt he will say that he disagrees with/abhors/rejects/denounces/and all other synonyms with respect to Wright’s anti-American comments. Perhaps he will say that he is resigning from the church. But he can’t say the one thing that would inoculate him against criticism, which is that he resigned the moment he became aware of Wright’s views. As George Will said yesterday on one of the Sunday shows, quoting General Douglas MacArthur, “All military disasters can be summed up in two words: ‘Too late.'”
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