Monday, April 28, 2008

Rev. Jeremiah Wright Defending Himself, But Is He Hurting Barack Obama in the Process?

Monday, April 28, 2008
By: Jackie Jones,

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s recent schedule of public appearances, including a prime-time television interview with Bill Moyers Friday, either threaten to pose a major problem for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign or is absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, depending on to whom you talk.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for Obama at all,” said radio host, columnist and CNN contributor Roland Martin. “The story was dying down. Now, all of a sudden, with two critical primaries two weeks away, that could have an impact.”

Wright, former pastor at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's church home, said that publicizing sound bites of sermons from several years ago in which he condemned U.S. policies was “unfair” and “devious,” and done by people who know nothing about his ministry, he told "Bill Moyers’ Journal" in a PBS interview.

As an activist, he is accustomed to being “at odds with the establishment,” but the response to the sermons has been “very, very unsettling,” Wright said.

In a major address on race on March 18 in Philadelphia, Obama described the history of injustice that fueled Wright's comments, acknowledged white resentment of being portrayed as privileged and/or bigoted and denounced his former pastor's remarks.

The interview broadcast Friday was the first Wright has given since video featuring brief, fiery excerpts of his preaching hit the national scene last month and forced Obama to defend his own spiritual and political views. Wright is scheduled to speak Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.

Sunday night, Wright told an audience of 10,000 at an NAACP dinner that despite what his critics say, he is descriptive, not divisive, when he speaks about racial injustices.

"I describe the conditions in this country," Wright said during the 53rd annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner held by the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I'm not here for political reasons," Wright said. "I'm not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media made it seem like I am running for the Oval Office. I am not running for the Oval Office. I've been running for Jesus a long, long time, and I'm not tired yet."

By speaking at the event, Wright was following in the footsteps of Obama and the senator's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as former President Bill Clinton. It's a $150-a-plate fundraiser billed as America's largest sit-down dinner.

"I am not one of the most divisive" black spiritual leaders, he said. "I'm one of the most descriptive."

Wright received a long, loud standing ovation.

“Rev. Wright has already been framed. Some people may get a greater understanding of him from what he has to say,” but a lot of people have already made up their minds about him, Martin told

“Politically, you take the hit; you learn from it and move on,” Martin said, but for Obama, that has become more difficult because the issue, which took up most of March, has come back in April and threatens to roll into May.

Martin said the Obama campaign, however, has decided not to further engage the issue.

“They’re not going to comment on it because they don’t have to; (Obama has) already addressed it,” Martin said.

But Rev. Wright, lapel pins, “bitter” working-class white folks all mean bumpkiss to the average voter, said David Bositis, senior analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank.

Bositis told he didn’t believe that Wright’s interview with Moyers really won’t have much of an impact.

“By and large, no, I don’t because there are real problems” that Americans are contending with, he said.

From Bositis' research, casual conversations and even listening to a recent radio talk show, he said, it is apparent voters “are tired of hearing about lapel pins and Rev. Wright," he said, "and what they are talking about is rice and Costco, how much gasoline costs, how much health care costs, the recession the country is in, people losing their homes and being in neighborhoods where lots of other people are losing their homes, increasing the risk of crime when you have abandoned homes. All this other stuff is a useless distraction to what other people are worried about.”

And while the issue may be framed in terms of how Obama may fare against McCain in November, it is nothing more than a smokescreen to suggest that these issues could cost Obama the Democratic nomination, Bositis said.

“Obama has more delegates, and when everything is done, he’s going to have more delegates, who are going to decide whether to seat Michigan and Florida, and it’s their decision. It’s not the party’s decision; it’s up to the delegation at the Democratic convention. And as long as Obama is in control of the delegation to the convention, he will tell the delegates how to vote, and this is one of the things that Clinton has been sick over,” Bositis said.

The argument that pledged delegates don’t have to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged is technically true, but virtually impossible to have happen, he said.

“It’s typical of Clinton that she wants to break the rules. Those delegates are not picked at random. They pick the most loyal people to be delegates, and it’s Obama loyalists” who are chosen, Bositis said. “She can make up all the fantasies she wants.”

Bositis said although Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary last Tuesday, she cut Obama’s lead by just three delegates. Superdelegates, he said, are still migrating to Obama’s side.

“She hasn’t gained any ground,” said Bositis.

Bositis and Martin also took political pundits and journalists to task for lazy reporting that has only served to confuse and misinform voters.

Martin, who said he viewed Wright’s sermon in its entirety and pointed out in several interviews that excerpts of Wright’s comments were taken out of context, said few in the media have sought to correct the record, but several commentators have accused him of being an apologist for the minister or a partisan player for Obama.

“I represent fact, I don’t represent factions,” Martin said. “So when somebody says that Wright called for God to damn America, I’ve got to correct them immediately, whether it’s on my radio show or on CNN. Nearly every one of these people coming on the air, none of them has heard the sermon in question. The question is have you heard it? Have you heard it? Have you heard it? And when they say no, you have to say ‘How can you speak with authority on the sermon that you have not heard? You can’t extrapolate.’”

Bositis said he has stopped watching television political pundits because their information is not reliable.

“I can get data on the Web without listening to a bunch of fools. If I want news, I get news from printed sources -- although there are plenty of print sources that are bull -- or on the Web,” he said. “It’s not even informed speculation. Those people are selling themselves. They’re playing roles. They haven’t been hired for analysis. Like local newscasters, (stations) always look for people who are attractive, who come across as trustworthy, who people like. Well, these people are hired to rant and rave.”


Associated Press contributed to this story.


Jackie said...

Hopefully the Bill Moyers interview along with the NAACP speech which was brilliant, and the Press Club speech, at allow people to see him in more that the snippets. I hope it helps and can now go away on a positive note.

Monica Roberts said...

Let the congregation say amen! ;)

Polar said...

Rev. Wright has every right to defend himself. He's clearly been quoted out of context. You simply can't take soundbites out of a preacher's sermon and make sense of it, let alone use it to make a point.

As for "does it hurt or help Obama", I can't say. I vote on issues, not innuendo.