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Obama And Wright

Jeremiah Wright's 2003 "War on Iraq IQ Test" underscores that the now-infamous Wright clips playing on television were neither isolated outbursts nor mere efforts at being "provocative," as Obama described the post-9/11 tirade to the New York Times last April. (People didn't much note this at the time because a) the Times didn't directly quote from the sermon and b) seeing/hearing the rhetorical power--and anger--of Wright's rhetoric takes it to a different and jarringly visceral level.) It's also clear that the question of whether Obama was present for those particular sermons now in the news isn't really the issue. Wright's oft-iterated political worldview, which apparently includes the belief that the US created AIDS to keep the Third World in poverty, should be quite apparent to anyone who knows him as well as Obama does.

Where does this leave us? There are two separate issues here. One is political, and that one's not too ambiguous: This is really bad news for Obama, both in the primary and if he makes it to the general. He's worked successfully to escape the image of the "angry black man," and here he is linked to that image in the most emotionally searing way.

The second issue is how we should feel, normatively, about the fact that Obama maintained ties with Wright, even after presumably realizing that he held views Obama now calls deplorable. I'm not prepared to render judgment on that here. But I do worry that this lays bare a very grim truth: That even middle-class black American culture is more angry and alienated than most whites understand, and that our country is simply not yet at the point where even an ostensibly post-racial black candidate can escape that dynamic entirely. (Indeed not only was Wright perfectly acceptable to Obama and his Chicago circle, but it seems likely that it would have been difficult for Obama to separate himself from the preacher had he wanted to, lest he be accused of not being an "authentic" member of the south side black community.) In other words, what's happening here is far bigger than the particulars of Obama and Wright, it's about cultural dissonance that was going to bubble up one way or another. And as a colleague put it to me today, in terms I hope are too pessimistic: "It makes me think it's going to be at least another generation before we see a black man elected president." If Obama can prove him wrong then he really may be a world-historical figure.

P.S. On the Clinton campaign conference call this morning, her team refused to touch the Wright story. I assume the Clintonites feel the story is causing Obama  plenty enough trouble without their encouragement; nor do they want to risk being accused of further race-baiting.

Meanwhile a pro-Hillary friend wrote me today saying this is why calls to force Clinton out of the race are premature. In politics, lighting can always strike.

Photo: Trinity United Church of Christ/Religion News Service

--Michael Crowley