Senator Obama has rightly severed his relationship with the extremely divisive (to say the least) Rev. Jeremiah Wright. However, given Obama's long-time and close association with Rev. Wright, this can't help but distract from the campaign and give the Republicans a huge opportunity to define Obama as a similar extremist radical by virtue of this association.
From the beginning of this campaign, my one and only criteria for deciding who to support in the Democratic primary has been simple: Who has the best chance of winning in November? Until a month or so ago, I was leaning toward Obama based on his better performance in the head-to-head polls, his far more pleasing personality, his superior speaking ability and his obvious political skills. But in the last few weeks, a number of things have cropped up that have caused me to reevaluate my preference – from Obama’s incompetent handling of the NAFTA matter to, far more critically, his seeming inability to attract support from Hispanics and working class whites. Say what you want about Hillary but the women is tough and competent – and she has no difficulties reaching out to core constituencies.
Rev. Wright is now the latest but not the least of Obama's problems. As you all know, Wright was Senator Obama's pastor. The relationship between the men went back many years and was close. Indeed, Rev. Wright married Barack and Michelle and he has served as a defacto advisor to the campaign from the beginning. As the Chicago Tribune reported last year:
Though Wright and Obama do not often talk one-on-one often, the senator does check with his pastor before making any bold political moves. Last fall, Obama approached Wright to broach the possibility of running for president.
Indeed, Wright so impressed Obama that he borrowed the phrase "The Audacity of Hope" directly from Wright’s sermons.
For those who think that I'm being unfair to Rev. Wright in calling him "extremely divisive," here are two quotes from a speech Rev. Wright gave at Howard University just two years ago:
America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. . . . We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers . . . We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi . . . We put [Nelson] Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.
We started the AIDS virus . . . We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty. . . .
There’s plenty more of this sort from Rev. Wright through the years and I could go on and on with these quotes, but let’s leave it at that. My point isn't the noxious views of Rev. Wright but Obama's handling of the matter. While Obama has condemned these statements and has now severed his relationship with Wright, the fact that it took Obama this long to take this step and the fact that he chose to address it by way of a statement to the Huffington Post, rather than a no-holds-barred news conference, raises questions about Obama's judgment. While Obama claims that he was not personally present at the worst of Rev. Wright's inflammatory sermons, it begs credulity to believe that Obama was unaware of what Rev. Wright was saying. And, more importantly, the fact that Obama waited until it blew up like this with the video of Wright's speeches all over the web, will cause many of those Reagan Democrats, Hispanics, working class whites and independents to wrongly and unfairly attribute Wright's anti-American radicalism to Obama. The sheer incompetence of this angers me and should anger you too.
If you think that I’m being unfair to Obama or that Hillary is too rough and negative toward him, wait until the Republican attack machine gets going. Hillary, whether you like her or not, is like a battered down stock – all the negatives are already reflected in the price of the stock. There’s nothing the Republicans can say or do about Hillary that isn’t already known. But that's not true of Obama. Obama can and will be clobbered by this stuff as he works to introduce himself to the voters. If the goal is to win in November and not just nominate an historical figure and a compelling speaker, we need to seriously reconsider the candidates and choose the one – Hillary Clinton – who has the best shot at actually winning in November.