Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama Speech Fails to Defuse Wright Attacks

John Heilemann makes the case that Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on race and religion failed to put the Wright controversy to bed as an election issue. GOP operatives see the Wright videos as "the gift that keeps on giving":

Few events in this relentlessly eventful campaign season have felt as momentous, as freighted with portent, as the speech that Barack Obama delivered last week on race. As a piece of rhetoric, Obama’s address was pretty much everything one could ever hope for from a presidential candidate on the vexed topic of black and white: nuanced, candid, gutsy, and replete with context. But Obama’s oration was more than a speech—it was a political maneuver. And, as such, at least in the short term, it was as nearly as effective as it was eloquent and erudite. It helped Obama move past the raging controversy stirred up by the rantings of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It put him back on the elevated plane where he thrives. And, in the words of one Democratic strategist, “It strummed the mystic chords of the press corps, which has been south on him since Ohio and Texas.”

In the longer term, however, Obama’s speech did nothing to defuse an issue that Republicans clearly intend to beat him senseless with this fall—assuming that, as seems increasingly likely, he secures the Democratic nomination. Quite the contrary.

In GOP circles, the incendiary video clips of Obama’s former pastor are seen, not surprisingly, as a gift that will keep on giving. And indeed, the furor around them has caused Republican strategists to rethink their preconceptions about whether Obama or Hillary Clinton would be a more formidable general-election opponent against John McCain. “Once, there was a clear impression that he would be tougher,” a senior McCain adviser tells me. “But, after these past few weeks, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”
Heilemann goes on to indicate how Obama's vulnerable to GOP opposition attacks: He's a dissembler who's beginning to sound like Bill Clinton in his parsing evasions, and his refusal to disown Wright makes him vulnerable to ideological attacks, that he's aligned with the far-left fringes of the Democratic Party.

Here's the key passage:

Which brings us back to Obama. The hard guys of the Republican Party have no intention of trying to paint the hope- monger as a closet black nationalist. They intend to portray him as insufficiently allegiant to his nation. They will weave together Wright’s “God damn America” with Michelle Obama’s statement that this is the “first time” she has been “proud of my country,” Obama’s eschewal of the American-flag lapel pin, and a piece of video that captures him standing at a campaign event without his hand over his heart during the national anthem. And, in fact, a trio of right-wing activists have already thrown together a video doing just that: For a picture of what the fall campaign will look like, just go to YouTube and type in “Is Obama Wright?”
The "Is Obama Wright?" video is over the top, but more respectable videos will be produced - short and sweet, like campaign spots - and they'll be devastating.

I disagree with the point about Obama and black nationalism, or at least I think there's more to it.

Reverend Wright proselytizes black liberation theology, as he's stated during interviews. Black liberation is his church doctrine, and Obama's been a loyal member of the flock since 1991. Until the Illinois Senator renounces all ties to Reverend Wright, the relative importance of black nationalist ideology will remain in play as a campaign issue.