Barack Obama is a magician.
He could tell me it's raining on a sunny day, and I'd grab an umbrella. He could tell me the moon is the sun, and I'd reach for my shades.
He could even tell me that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's rants god-damning America and blaming AIDS on a white-man conspiracy were wrong but essentially justified by a racist past ... and I'd have to slap myself before I saddled up a polka-dotted horse and galloped down the Yellow Brick Road.
Obama's speech Tuesday from Philadelphia -- the city of brotherly love -- was eloquent, inspiring and will be read in schools for generations. But between the lines of change and reconciliation were a discomfiting hint of buried fury, a sense of racial righteousness and a tacit approval attached to his expressed disapproval of Wright's now-famous raves that will leave many Americans wondering: Is he with us? Or is he against us?
In a flourish of brilliance, Obama framed his Rev. Wright problem in the context of America's unfinished work toward "a more perfect union," as envisioned by the nation's forefathers. It isn't that Wright is off-the-wall, we were to infer. It is that our country is falling short of its promise.
Which isn't completely false, of course, but not completely true, either. America isn't finished with its business of equality -- and race does still bedevil us -- but our progress since the twin blights of slavery and Jim Crow isn't insignificant.
Ever conscious of his pledge to unity, Obama acknowledged as much, saying that Wright wasn't wrong to talk about racism -- even if it was one-sided. He was wrong to speak "as if our society was static: as if no progress has been made."
But what he didn't acknowledge is that Wright is completely off-the-wall, even if the snippets we've seen are only a fraction of his life's work. Give Wright credit for helping the unfortunate and for leading Obama to his faith. But those accomplishments don't quite neutralize the anti-white message of the man Obama selected as his spiritual mentor.
Like the best politicians, Obama senses our restlessness. One of his many gifts is his ability to lull people with flawless logic and uplifting rhetoric.
Of course he disagrees with some of Wright's controversial statements -- just as most people disagree with some of what their pastors and rabbis say. We're yum-yumming that idea, thinking "Yeah, that's right," when our inner reality-checker kicks in and kills the buzz.