"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”


Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog...He Was a Good Friend of Mine

Uhm, maybe not?

I'm of the opinion - and it may prove to be naive and foolish - that Rev. Wright's remergence in the public arena this weekend will eventually help Barack Obama's candidacy. I realize I'm swimming against the stream of conventional wisdom this Monday morning. Right now, MSNBC has the tag line: "CAMPAIGN ALERT: Rev. Wright Hurting Obama Campaign and Tamryn Hall opened this hour's coverage describing him as "the thorn in Obama's side."

So, with the media providing the "Wright is Wrong for Obama" refrain, why do I think this PR campaign has an upside?

Let's acknowledge the following:

1) The Wright controversy has been created by selective, inflammatory soundbites. The snapshots are unquestionably damaging to Obama's candidacy. But we are missing both the context of the remarks and the complexity of the man.
2) The controversy isn't going to disappear. If Democrats - or the Obama campaign - believed Rev. Wright was going to fade into the rearview mirror, that's wishful thinking. Rest assured: It ain't going to happen, because the Republicans won't let it. The Right Wing machine is in high gear. We've already been promised "Wright All the Time" in a general election.

If Wright had chosen to retreat into silence, it would have allowed the Republican smear machine to define him. Unlike recent Democratic candidates, Wright, a proud and accomplished man, chose to not back down. He decided to define and explain the African American church and inform the public about a lifetime devoted to social justice and compassion. He is refusing to allow his life story to be reduced to a soundbite.

How did he do? From my perspective, he scored some points during the speech. He did a great job of making the audience laugh, squirm and THINK more than a soundbite could ever do.
In the Q&A, he fumbled a bit, providing a handful of soundbites to the GOP attack ad library, probably causing heartburn for the Obama campaign.

What emerges from this burst of publicity? Wright becomes a more complete figure in the public mind. He forces people to see beyond the media's caricature. In the process, he raised some serious questions about the role of religion, educated others about black liberation theology and challenged us to acknowledge the complexity of race relations in 21st century America.

Additionally, by becoming a headline today, he has diffused the power of his comments in the long run. By the general election, voters are likely to say, "oh, yeah, we've heard all this before." It's similar to the crazy and indefensible comments that regularly come out of the Right Wing preachers' (think Falwell, Hagee & Robertson) mouths. We may be enraged when they claim divine retribution in hurricanes and terrorist attacks, but eventually we consider the source and move on.

Lastly, Wright may have provided Obama the additional cover he needed to distance himself from his erstwhile preacher. The reverend has chosen to take more flak, transfering much of the bile and outrage from Obama to himself. While many in the media are declaring these remarks as "Awful for Obama" and predicting collateral damage to his candidacy, they could be dead wrong. Obama is not the "Angry Black Man" Wright's caricature depicts.

Here is an opportunity to reinforce Obama's image as the "post-partisan and post-racial" candidate. He can say - once again - "I understand and feel the reverend's pain, but I do not share his anger."

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