A Train Wreck In Slow Motion

Barack Obama had never run a competitive campaign in his life before 2008, certainly not on the scale of a presidential run. For the last few months, he seemed to have an almost unnatural ability at it.

In the last 72 hours, the Obama campaign has begun to implode, and at the worst possible time. It may not be enough to sink him, but it’s becoming an increasingly large possibility.

The way in which the Wright scandal is being mishandled is not helping Obama. Here’s what he said just a few weeks ago:

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Today, it’s a different story. It looks like Sen. Obama really can disown Rev. Wright. Not only that, it certainly seems like he did disown Rev. Wright.

Obama has a huge credibility problem right now. Rev. Wright was his pastor for 20 years. Rev. Wright officiated his marriage and baptized his children. And just now he finds out that Rev. Wright is a race-baiter? That all of a sudden Rev. Wright went from perfectly reasonable to abjectly bugnuts just as Obama was running for President. As Jim Geraghty puts it: you buy that? That kind of argument isn’t going to play with the American people, who have the common sense to spot when someone’s being a patent phony from a mile away.

Obama himself has said that Rev. Wright issue is a legitimate political issue. Obama himself has said that he could no more disown Wright than he could disown the entire black community. Obama himself said that he had no idea that Rev. Wright was this crazy, even though he attended his church for 20 years.

That kind of thing is what can kill a campaign. You can’t keep changing the story, and you can’t expect the American people to believe you when your explanations are so patently unrealistic. Obama has run a well-oiled campaign, but the fact that he’s a political neophyte is starting to show at the worst time for him.

It’s doubtful that Obama really didn’t know who Rev. Jeremiah Wright really was for 20 years. It would be hard not to notice such things. Obama barely dodged the Wright issue the first time, and now his self-inflicted wounds are even worse.

This won’t necessarily kill him in the primary, but it will in the general election. For all Sen. Obama’s great political talent, a presidential election is not the time to start learning the ropes. A defter hand at campaigning would not have made these basic mistakes, but Obama’s inexperience is showing. Either he was willing to ignore Wright’s racism or he’s an incredibly poor judge of character. Regardless of which is the truth, it reflects poorly on him, and since he admits it’s a legitimate issue for discussion, he has to live with the consequences.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a transcript of Obama’s remarks. I didn’t see the press conference live, but from the end it reads like Obama was getting snippy with the reporters. We’ve seen that before from Obama, and in a crisis the last thing that you want to do is alienate the press.

6 thoughts on “A Train Wreck In Slow Motion

  1. “It may not be enough to sink him, but it’s becoming an increasingly large possibility.”

    Unlikely. Nobody sane in the Democratic Party wants to alienate African-Americans and the next generation of Democratic voters by trading Obama for a replacement candidate with a 54% disapproval rating.

    “Obama himself has said that he could no more disown Wright than he could disown the entire black community. Obama himself said that he had no idea that Rev. Wright was this crazy, even though he attended his church for 20 years.”

    Of course, you guys don’t have the intellectual honesty to admit you would have piled on Obama as “just another politician” if he had thrown Wright off the bus last month. This is the reason Barack Obama was never gonna be elected President. He was either gonna be too black or not black enough. Americans are, for all intents and purposes, lying when 97% of them claim a willingness to vote for an African-American for President. The kicker is….they’d be willing to vote for an African-American who behaves like a white man. To that extent, Jeremiah Wright was correct that what we saw unfold last month was, by extension, an attack on black churches. Wright may be an exaggerated example, but is nonetheless emblematic of an angry black culture personified on the pulpits of black churches, and associating Obama with that culture was the surest way for the GOP to make him “too black for America”. What’s sad is that clueless media elites fawning over Obama for the last year were unable to see that the contest would ultimately play out that way.

    “Obama has run a well-oiled campaign, but the fact that he’s a political neophyte is starting to show at the worst time for him.”

    And how exactly would Obama have been able to effectively deal with this situation without being destroyed, smart guy?

  2. This would also be the perfect time for the Democrats to volley back with “Now that the controversial remarks of pastors have become the #1 issue of this campaign, perhaps now would be a good time for Senator McCain to publicly reject his endorsements of the pastors he’s received hands-clasped-in-unity endorsements from who have called the pope a whore and said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s revenge against gays.”

    Unfortunately, I doubt the Dems are that smart.

  3. “an attack on black churches”

    Most Americans (including, I think, most Black people) will have very negative feelings about any church that embraces ideas like
    ï‚· The US government developed and infected people with HIV to control certain populations.
     “God damn America” accompanied with conspiratorial analysis.
    ï‚· America’s chickens have come home to roost–accompanied with irrelevancies like the bombing of Japan.

    It’s not a question of race; crazy and hateful ideas are crazy and hateful whether uttered by somebody who happens to be White, Black or Green. It’s OK to be Black; it’s OK to be angry (especially with the just causes that Blacks certainly have; it’s not OK to be a nut and hate-monger.

    I think Obama is truthfully saying what he thinks of this nonsense: ridiculous, appalling, outrageous and offensive.

    But Obama’s relationship to Wright raises questions. I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that Obama was unaware of these bizarre beliefs. So what kept Obama from establishing an appropriate distance from Wright early on—at least before his campaign for President started?

    What did he do earlier to demonstrate that he understood this stuff was morally reprehensible, not to mention, dangerous to him and crazy? Where was Obama standing for the right; for truth and fairness, for moral principle? I don’t see any of that prior to the issue being forced.

    No sharp denunciations necessary, no public spectacle—just firm and timely withdrawal.

    I’ve been in situations in which evil and dangerous ideas have been strongly expressed. Never with the stakes approaching, by orders of magnitude, what Obama faces. Even I have come up with the moral courage to back off, to firmly withdraw. Any President needs to be better than me in that department.

    So, what worries me about this affair, Does it show that Obama is not a man of principle?

    I believe that is what people are really concerned with–not Obama’s beliefs, not race, Black churches or Black culture. But character. What does his failure to act in the presence of evil say about his character?


  4. Bob:

    “So what kept Obama from establishing an appropriate distance from Wright early on—at least before his campaign for President started?”

    For starters, Obama clearly recognized Wright would be a problem and thus disinvited him from certain campaign functions in the last year. As for “what kept him from establishing an appropriate distance early on”, clearly it’s the fact that Obama needed sufficient ties to the African-American community if he was gonna be accepted as more than just an Uncle Tom. Had Obama thrown Wright under the bus a year ago, he would have looked like a political opportunist spurning his own people to snuggle up to whitey. That’s the needle Obama had to thread in this election and cuts to the core of what I was saying in regards to not being “too black” or “not black enough”. It never seemed possible to me that he would pull it off enough to satisfy a fickle and hyperjudgmental electorate…and it appears I was right.

  5. Jay, Obama’s campaign is doing just fine and I believe he will win in November. You do have a great and inciteful blog, but, I think you fail to understand that many of the campaign issues you bring up on a daily basis are of no interest to most voters. Most are concerned about the bigger bread and butter issues that affect them most directly, like skyrocketing gas prices and inflation. The pocketbook issues are what you need to focus more on like I tell most bloggers. If you ask most American voters what they think about, I bet you it is not every little mistake the Obama or McCain campaigns make. They could care less about that stuff.
    Otherwise, keep up the great work Jay!

  6. Dear Jay,

    “Obama leader of the Brain-Slug Party” was both a fascinating and hilarious piece on the political movement that has made the next President of the United States so successful. However, as insightful and thought-provoking as it was, it was not very factual, but, more of an entertaining spoof you read when you sit back and drink a beer to discuss the latest conspiracy theories with your buddies. You have an interesting premise Jay, it’s just that it doesn’t pass the smell test for factual journalism. Many people that I know, including myself, are involved in the Obama Movement (as you put it) because we like his policies and what he stands for. I think calling us people with “brain-slugs” is way over generalizing and you can’t really prove that is the case. Sorry to burst your “intellectual bubble,” but I have a feeling you were going for entertainment value with this latest report.
    Jay, keep up the good work! By the way, I wanted to add that I like and respect John McCain, as Obama’s opponent in this campaign and admire how he is remaking the Republican Party, taking it away from it’s extreme Conservative roots.

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