Robert Novak

Although the Obama camp feared the worst when Wright went on the road last weekend, the preacher was restrained on his first two stops. Bill Moyers (friendly and an ordained Baptist minister) asked polite questions on his PBS program, and Wright reciprocated. He raised his level addressing an NAACP fundraiser in Detroit, but that performance was sufficiently restrained to win commendations even from Clinton supporters. Not until the question-and-answer period at the Press Club did Wright go wild, playing to a raucous black audience.

Obama advisor Susan Rice, appearing on MSNBC immediately after the Press Club spectacle, was visibly unhappy as she disavowed any responsibility for Wright. Soon after, while campaigning in Wilmington, N.C., Obama hardly seemed exercised about Wright, saying merely, "He does not speak for me." The candidate then was urged by advisers to react more firmly.

He did at Winston-Salem, N.C., the next day, calling Wright's performance "divisive and destructive." But Wright's anti-U.S. slanders at the Press Club were only a repetition of Wright's sermons that had not aroused such a disavowal. The difference was that with every word Monday heard over national cable television, Obama no longer could slough off what the preacher said as out of context.

Over the past two years, Obama on occasion has appeared with Wright and praised him as a valued counselor and dear friend of the family. The title of the best-selling "The Audacity of Hope" was taken from a Wright sermon. But Obama on Tuesday summarily dismissed the man who used to be his spiritual mentor as a "pastor," just as Wright had dismissed him as a "politician."

Nobody knows whether Obama's performance inflicted permanent damage on his candidacy, but his supporters hope the issue is out of the news. The difficulty is Jeremiah Wright, thrown under the bus by his former parishioner, can re-emerge at any time he wishes and renew discussion of the Democratic presidential front-runner's real identity.


My last column erred in saying that Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic delegate, was the priest who gave Communion to pro-choice politicians during the recent Papal Mass in Washington. Sen. John Kerry did take Communion from Sambi's hand in 2006.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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