By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Obama’s speech

Barack Obama’s speech was first-rate — passionate yet subdued, easy to grasp yet complex in Obama’s implied demand that his listeners hold a number of contradictory views simultaneously. My suspicion, though, is that the controversy over his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has left Obama with a narrower coalition.

More than anything, the events of the past week play into the argument made by Hillary Clinton — that Democrats just don’t know enough about Obama. Even though the Wright stuff has been out there for many months, it’s not blowing up until now. Who knows why?

The point is that it’s all too easy to imagine some “independent” Republican group making a devastating ad out of the Obama-Wright connection this fall.

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  1. Anonymous

    Dan, I disagree. Obama is not Kerry and he’s not Gore. He’ll know how to respond to such attacks . . . McCain has certain wingnut supporters as well.

  2. lucythedog

    “The point is that it’s all too easy to imagine some “independent” Republican group making a devastating ad out of the Obama-Wright connection this fall.”Even if this is true, won’t these same groups have a field day with Hillary? It’s not like they have a shortage of material on her, legit or not.

  3. Anonymous

    And meanwhile, ask anyone who now “fears” Obama based on Wright’s statements what they think of John Hagee, and the response will invariably be, “John who?”

  4. Steve

    I gotta agree with Lucy here, in a way. Of COURSE some independent Republican group is going to make an ad about it. My guess is they already have, and they’re focus-group testing it now. But they were going to do that anyway – no matter who the nominee is, there will be a smearfest.One of the strongest tools the Democrats could have is to have the media on their side – or at least sympathetic to their candidate. McCain has a teflon suit with the media – there will be issues and scandals raised, but they’ll die away quickly, because the media like him. Hillary is old news. The media *hate* Hillary, and will keep alive accusations that have been disproven two and three times, and they will burden her with the weight of her husband’s scandals.The media don’t know what to do with Obama. His campaign has been based on very positive and compelling themes. He is new news. The Sunday talk shows won’t as readily pass on the raucous right-wing talking points to a more mainstream audience.Obama is a great communicator. If it’s a battle of ideas, he is up to the challenge of getting them across. The Rev. Wright thing isn’t a sex scandal – it’s basically about ideas, and Obama argues ideas very well.I would prefer Hillary to Obama as President, but I think Obama has the better shot.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m an Obama skeptic who has a low opinion of Hillary, and I thought the speech was brilliant. It moved me a step toward Obama. If I can forgive my Catholic friends their church’s abominations, I can forgive Obama his.

  6. Charles Foster Kane

    Anonymous at 10:29 AM makes an interesting point: I don’t hear anyone holding Catholic politicians feet to the fire when the Catholic church has taken such a strong stand against the war in Iraq. It boils down to this. People look at Obama’s church and say “that’s not a real church, that’s a storefront ministry with a crazy black nationalist preacher”, the way they look at Mitt Romney’s church, to a far lesser degree, and say “that’s a crazy cult religion that believes Joseph Smith translated golden plates into the Book of Mormon.” In short, for many Americans Mormonism and black liberation theology aren’t valid forms of worship so they feel free to mock and exaggerate what those churches preach. I’ve yet to hear a single word about the actual work Obama’s church does to bring Christ’s message into action.Yet no one dares attack the Catholic church as unpatriotic or demand that Republican Catholics renounce their church for its staunch opposition to the war in Iraq? Why does Tom Ridge’s (to name a potential GOP VP candidate) church hate America? Why is it actively aiding terrorists? Every time a priest preaches peace, the terrorists are emboldened.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Charles: I think a major reason that Catholics and Mormons get a pass on some of these things is that we all understand that those are not chosen faiths. It is a very, very big deal for someone to quit the Catholic Church, and we don’t expect it of anyone. Thus we let elected officials like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry tell us on what issues they disagree with the hierarchy, and we leave it at that. (Although it’s interesting that we make a bigger deal out of disagreeing with the Church on abortion rights or same-sex marriage than we do war or the death penalty.)By contrast, people who belong to mainline Protestant churches are there by choice. Even if you grew up Methodist, for instance, there is no pressure on you to remain a Methodist. Or if there is, you can pick a different Methodist church, where perhaps the minister’s views are more in accord with yours. There is little or no hierarchy. You don’t have to answer for the views of a Methodist pope.Obama chose his church and he chose his minister. Regardless of where you stand on the controversy over Jeremiah Wright, you have to concede that this is a dilemma entirely of Obama’s own making. He was far more of a free agent than, say, Mitt Romney was in continuing to belong to a church that discriminated against blacks until the late 1970s. (Of course, it would have been nice if Romney had been outspoken at the time, but that’s another matter.)Despite my name, I am not now nor have I ever been a Catholic; but I do know a few things about how it operates. It’s been interesting to hear Obama’s defenders on talk radio who come from a Catholic background — they’re trying to draw a direct analogy to priests’ expressing views they don’t like. It doesn’t work.Obama’s longstanding relationship with Wright is either OK or it isn’t. The only thing that is definitely not true is the idea that he couldn’t do much about it.

  8. Harry

    Dan, you wrote:Even though the Wright stuff has been out there for many months, it’s not blowing up until now. Who knows why?Why? Don’t ask us. Ask those responsible for content in the mainstream media. They are the ones who choose their stories.Personally, I suspect the recent SNL skit was rather close to the truth.

  9. Don, American

    Obama sat in that church for 20 years, and nodded “Right on.” The new Governor of New York and his wife learned a lesson — confess before you’re discovered. Ain’t politics great?

  10. Anonymous

    The speech on race, brilliant. The defense of his relationship with Wright, not so much.Obama would have been served far better by calling a press conference and taking every, uncomfortable question.The Obama line that struck me was: That is not the Rev. Wright I know. Now substitute “Don Imus” for “Rev. Wright.”Legions of African-Americans — Obama among the most vociferous — would not allow that line of defense any credibility.As my mother says, you’re judged by the company you keep.

  11. acf

    As for the issue of Obama and Pastor Wright, unlike his ‘racist’ white grandmother, the pastor is not his flesh and blood, and the association is one of choice, a choice he made himself, as an adult, not one made for him by his parents when he was a child. That he would continue this relationship, in the face of the history of statements Wright has made, puts a spotlight on his decision making, and what behavior he was willing to tolerate until forced by political pressures to condemn. Given this history, why would he allow this man near his campaign, and even claim his help and guidance in the decision to run for president, as well along the campaign?

  12. Charles Foster Kane

    Dan:Not chosen faiths? The Catholic and Mormon churches sap you of free will? (On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t try to answer that question). No, the difference is that most people understand that many Catholics don’t live up to the tenets of their religion. The culture of Catholicism in the United States is ignoring Rome when it is convenient (birth control, anyone?), which is what gives Catholic politicians a free pass. Yet people can’t seem to believe that Obama can attend his church and have the same policy of ignoring what he finds disturbing about Wright. I suppose proximity matters: if the Pope were preaching at the cathedral on Washington Street and railing against homosexuality and cultural decay, perhaps people would pay more attention. That being said, there are many other reasons why people attend a church other than the minister–friends, community involvement, religious education for children. Methodism isn’t a good example: there is still a doctrinal component which comes down from an organization larger than the church itself. You may not like your minister, but you’re not going to escape dogma. There are very few religions in this country with a true congregational polity. As a Unitarian, I know full well how people can selectively agree or disagree with their minister and that is perfectly acceptable. The question thus remains: why do people think Obama can’t do the same? The answer: Wright is an angry black man who can be used as a weapon against Obama. Implicit in this tying of Wright and Obama is the idea that Obama is, again, the stealth candidate. Now instead of just being a closet Muslim, he’s a closet Muslim black nationalist. That this is what is dominating our political discourse shows how low we’ve sunk. God bless America? No, God, dumb America!

  13. O-FISH-L

    You gotta love the sudden importance of the American flag to Camp Obama. What were there, 6 or 8 flags on the stage with him? PRICELESS! Whatever happened to his anti-flag philosophy, “You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that’s what we have to lead with, our values and ideals.” Yikes, that’s what many of us are afraid of. I’m also confused as to whether or not Obama was present for any of the crackpot Rev. Wright’s outrageous statements? First he wasn’t, now he was. What gives?Lastly, you don’t have to be an “independent” Republican group to make a devastating ad with this abundant material. I think any patriotic four year-old could put something effective together.

  14. Anonymous

    I’m a Catholic who left his parish. When the Pedophile Priest Abuse Scandal was coming out into the open, my pastor devoted his sermon to defending Cardinal (out)Law, his thesis being that the media hates Catholics and priests. I walked out and never entered that church again. I am now an Episcopalian. What’s the matter….does a lowly slob like me have more guts and sense of right and wring than does Sen. Obama? His sticking by that hate monger racist pastor should be an issue. PS—before I am attacked, I have never voted Republican before and might not now either…Nader can’t win but he has more ethics than Obama and McCain combined.

  15. Christopher

    This whole uproar isn’t even about religion or the church, it is about people having double standards and not applying the same ‘rules’ to all cases.What this pastor said is wrong, and it smears the name of all Americans to say that the good things that has happened do not overcome the bad things, Obama is right about everyone coming together to make this a better place, because we obviously still have people spreading half-truths about all people in America.

  16. I'm Against It

    Barack Obama’s recent March 18 speech on race relations in America was one of the boldest and most relevant things to come from an American politician in years. Take a listen to my satire, in which I condensed a 40 minute speech down to 2. Mr. Obama urges a revolution on Washington and says the current administration should be taken to prison. Check it out Ah, the magic of simple audio editing software!

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