Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Stakes for Obama

Barack Obama's speech today on race and religion in politics will be the pivotal event of his historic campaign. As Peter Wehner noted yesterday:

This is the worst crisis the Obama campaign has faced. It has done deep and perhaps long-term damage by calling into question the judgment and credibility of the junior senator from Illinois. And it badly undermines Obama’s claim that he is a figure who can bind up America’s racial wounds....

Until now Barack Obama has run a remarkable campaign and has shown himself to be a man of apparent grace and class, an apostle of hope and unity. But recent events are starting to eat away at the image of Obama. Nothing has done more damage to him, however, than the comments of his pastor Jeremiah Wright. What Obama has said by way of explanation is neither reassuring nor persuasive — and before this story plays itself out, much more damage to the reputation of Barack Obama may be done.
The New York Times mentions Obama's objectives in the address:

Mr. Obama, in a speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, will repeat his earlier denunciations of the minister’s words, aides said. But they said he would also use the opportunity to open a broader discussion of race, which his campaign has said throughout the contest that it wants to transcend. He will bluntly address racial divisions, one aide said, talking about the way they play out in church, in the campaign, and beyond.

Mr. Obama continued to write the speech on Monday evening, which he believes could be one of the most important of his presidential candidacy, aides said. His wife, Michelle, had not been scheduled to travel with him this week, but hastily made plans to be in Philadelphia.

Mr. Obama said Monday that in his speech, to be given at the National Constitution Center, he would “talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently.”
The Politico puts the stakes for Obama in perspective:

Democrats who worry that Barack Obama is untested can put their concerns to rest.

The inflammatory rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has confronted Obama with the most severe test of his presidential campaign and, quite likely, of his public career.

He is now facing a full-blown and fast-moving political crisis in which his reputation as a leader with a singular ability to transcend racial divisions and unite Americans is in jeopardy.

A convergence of factors — a media firestorm, a Democratic rival eager to exploit his stumbles and, most of all, a Republican opposition eager to rough up the man they expect to face in the general election — have raised the stakes to new heights for Obama with the speech he will deliver in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning.

A successful address would go a long way toward answering Hillary Rodham Clinton’s complaint that Obama has never shown he can handle the rough-and-tumble nature of modern political combat.

A failure could leave many of the white independent voters — a key group behind Obama’s swift rise in national politics — doubting whether he is really the bridge-builder and healer he has portrayed himself to be.

In either event, the speech marks a significant shift in strategy. Obama initially tried to brush aside the comments by his former pastor as irrelevant to his campaign. A deluge of media coverage showed that was not going to work.

In the past, Obama has made racial issues, and his own precedent-shattering status, a minor note in his message. But Obama said Monday he recognizes that there is no way he is going to become the Democratic nominee without a forthright statement about the role of race in American life.
Actually, Obama's used the race card to undermine critics as he's simultaneously called America to transcend race.

As I've argued, Obama's relationship to Wright raises deeper questions about the nature of the left's revolutionary ideology, found in Marxist-Leninist liberation theology.

It's time for Obama to completely break from such influences. He must completely condemn and repudiate any past or present associations with a theology whose fundamental purpose is revolutionary salvation.

For more analysis, see Tom Bevan, "Obama's Rationale for Bid in Jeopardy Over Wright," and James Kirchick, "Why Obama Can't Escape His Minister.

Check Memeorandum as well.