Barack Obama tried to slip one past the George Stephanopoulos at Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Philadelphia, which may go down in history as the Night of the Mutual Meltdown.
Obama’s gambit concerned the now-infamous Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, the said-to-be-retired Senior Pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) on Chicago’s South Side. This is the preacher whom Obama has described as his 20-year mentor and guide. Wright conducted Obama’s marriage to Michelle Robinson in 1992, and baptized the couple’s two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha. Obama credits Wright for the title of his book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Let’s go to the transcript to see the stunt Mr. Obama tried to pull:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, two questions. Number one, do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do? And, number two, if you get the nomination, what will you do when those sermons are played on television again and again and again?
OBAMA: ….. And, you know, the notion that somehow that the American people are going to be distracted once again by comments not made by me, but somebody who is associated with me that I have disowned, I think doesn’t give the American people enough credit.
It was clever. If it slid by, his campaign could have tried to claim needed distance. A generally sympathetic Mainstream Media would likely have provided him cover.
Unfortunately for Obama, the ABC anchor was paying close attention:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve disowned him?
OBAMA: The comments, comments that I’ve disowned. ….
Oops. Just “the comments.”
As much grief as his 20-year pastor and mentor has brought to Obama and his campaign, who can blame him for the attempt? The Reverend Wright controversy, and others that have sprung forth as a result of it, have transformed his campaign, and threaten to sink it. A better opponent than Hillary Clinton might have finished him off by now.
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In early March, Barack Obama seemed to be on top of the world. His pledged delegate lead was (and still is) substantial. Yes, it was clear, even then, that he would not garner a delegate majority from pledged delegates won in the primary elections and caucuses, and that he would need the votes of of a significant plurality of Democratic superdelegates to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. But his charisma-based “hope” and “change” campaign seemed to be on cruise control and gaining more momentum with each passing day. His general-election polling lead against John McCain was substantial, even double digits in some cases. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was facing calls to withdraw.
Then, on March 4, Obama lost big-state primaries in both Texas and Ohio. After several previous weeks of blowout wins in about a dozen states, the Texas loss was a surprise. The 10-point margin of defeat in Ohio was a shock. The aura of invincibility began to fade.
Then on March 13, ABC investigative reporters Brian Ross and Rehab al-Buri posted and produced “Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11.” The report’s 700 printed words and 200 seconds of footage instantly and radically altered the political landscape. All of a sudden, Barack Obama became joined at the hip with a racist, backward-looking, terrorist-sympathetic man who clearly disdains his country.
The Obama campaign sensed serious and permanent damage, and moved quickly. Only five days later, the candidate delivered “The Speech” (“A More Perfect Union”). It was supposed to change the subject from Wright and TUCC to race relations in general. Even though he didn’t do much to create space between himself and Wright (” I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), Obama’s performance received generally fawning and adulatory Mainstream Media reviews. The situation seemed to have stabilized.
Except for two things: That darned Wright wouldn’t go away, and, perhaps more important, Trinity’s church bulletins entered the fray.
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Reverend Wright, for all of his radicalism, was, and still is, an effective communicator, the kind who you can see leveraging his message though as many communication outlets as possible. That is indeed the case. The ABC report mentions videos that TUCC has for sale. Barack Obama has mentioned listening to audio tapes. The weekly Trinity Church bulletin is yet another message-communicating outlet.
Bulletins at many churches are 2-4 page productions that provide only basic information about service schedules, group activities, prayer intentions, and the like. That is not at all the case at TUCC, whose bulletins are usually 30-plus page extravaganzas.
Almost every week, at least two bulletin pages are devoted to “Pastor’s Pages,” where Wright and his pastoral assistants hold forth on various topics.
The Pastor’s Pages, collectively, are a window into the radical Black Liberation Theology that undergirds TUCC. I have downloaded about 100 of TUCC’s bulletins published between December 2004 and March 2008, representing over half of what was published during that period. Combined with Wright’s apparent unwillingness to disappear, the content of these bulletins has served to deepen the controversy surrounding him, primarily by making Obama’s claims to be ignorant of Wright’s radicalism not credible.
What have we learned from the bulletins thus far? Quite a bit:
- (Originally reported at BizzyBlog on March 17) Two pages in the July 22, 2007 bulletin (pictured here) were given over to reprinting an op-ed column that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times by Hamas political director Mousa Abu Marzook. Yes, Wright gave two pages in a church bulletin to a terrorist.
- (Originally reported at BizzyBlog on March 17) In an introduction to an article on â€œProgressive Muslimsâ€ by an Omid Safi, Wright wrote this:
Clearly, Wright does not take the War on Terror or Israel’s right to exist seriously.
- (Originally reported by Sweetness & Light on March 24) Only days after Obama condemned the bulletin’s devotion of space to Hamas in an e-mail to a relatively small Israeli publication, a new hot potato landed in Obama’s lap. TUCC’s June 10, 2007 bulletin gave space to an Ali Baghdadi, who made this ludicrous claim (Baghdadi’s full article is at graphics here and here):
- (Originally reported at BizzyBlog on April 15) This past Saturday, Wright delivered a eulogy at TUCC for a local judge. The eulogy included an assertion that Thomas Jefferson “had babies by a 15 year-old slave girl. (I) think the judges call that pedophilia” — a statement that almost all media outlets except Fox News ignored. It turns out that Wright also made that claim, as if it is an undisputed fact, in the November 6, 2005 bulletin (relevant pages pictured here). In that same bulletin, he also called Jefferson a rapist, and claimed, again acting as if there is no dispute, that George Washington fathered a slave’s child.
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The net result of the initial Wright controversy, Wright’s continued visibility, and the drip-drip revelations of church bulletin contents, is that the Illinois Senator is no longer Barack the Inevitable. His general-election polling lead over John McCain has virtually vanished. In Wednesday night’s debate, Mrs. Clinton was so emboldened by Obama’s growing vulnerability that she actually brought up the bulletin containing the Hamas op-ed herself in front of the largest TV debate audience in the 2007-2008 campaign.
The important point to remember in all of this is that Barack Obama has not only failed to disown Wright, he has pledged to continue to attend TUCC — even though Wright’s successor is not expected to be significantly different. Because of these decisions, Obama can’t walk away from what has been discovered, or what will be. In fact, he has taken ownership of all of it, whether he likes it or not. All the “clever” ploys against the likes George Stephanopoulos and others won’t change that.
And there’s more on the way. Finally, the press is asking about unrepentant 1960s radical and Obama supporter Bill Ayers. There will surely be further scrutiny of Obama’s involvement with Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March. And this post hasn’t even gotten around to Tony Rezko, a questionable relationship that the Washington Post narrowly brought up in 2006 but which escaped meaningful media coverage until the indicted Rezko’s trial began.
Oh, and here’s one more piece of news for Barack Obama that should brighten his weekend: Powerline reports that he just won the coveted Hamas endorsement.