Will the Gospel According to Jeremiah Wright sink the Obama candidacy? Not very likely.
Let's start with two basic facts:
(a) Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has already won the Democratic nomination. It's over. Regardless of how the remaining primaries and caucuses go, including Michigan and even Florida, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) can never catch Obama in elected delegates. His current lead of 170 pledged delegates will not be overcome no matter what happens. Even if Clinton beats him by 10 points in each of these primaries, he will still lead among elected delegates by over 100. The superdelegates will not override the will of the voters unless Obama is in jail. They will not let themselves in for a civil war by overruling a black man who is beloved by the young by going over the heads of the electorate and naming the candidate that lost the primaries as the nominee. Regardless of how damaged Obama may be by the Wright tapes, it will not provide sufficient cover or cause for them to do so.
(b) Wright's rantings are not reflective of Obama's views on anything. Why did he stay in the church? Because he's a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can't say that. So what should he say?
He needs to get out of this mess with subtlety, the kind Bill Clinton should have used to escape the Monica Lewinsky scandal — but didn't. As the controversy continues, Americans will gradually realize that Obama stuck by Wright as part of a need to get ahead. They will chalk up to pragmatism why he was so close to such a preacher. As they come to realize that Obama doesn't agree with Wright but used him to get started, they will be more forgiving.
While he lets this fact sink in, he needs to continue to distance himself from Wright by characterizing that kind of anger and animosity as a thing of a generation past. He needs to compare the progress of which whites are proud in discarding the racism of our forebears with his own pride at being a post-racial candidate. He needs, again and again, to reject what Wright says and emphasize his belief in America and the validity and morality of the American Dream.
As the controversy matures, he can increasingly depict those who fan its flames as trying to live in the past and re-fight the civil wars of race that have divided America.
All these themes were evident and articulately presented in Obama's Tuesday speech on race.
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