Obama 'outraged' by former pastor's comments

April 29, 2008 8:55:31 PM PDT
Senator Barack Obama distanced himself further from his controversial former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright.The senator ripped Wright for his volatile remarks that threaten to undermine Obama's presidential campaign.

This is Obama's sharpest denunciation yet of Wright.

"Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign," Obama said.

Senator Obama went on to say that he is outraged by Reverend Wright's remarks. And the controversy has possibly done irreparable damage to their 20-year relationship.

Obama, the Democratic frontrunner for now, is still trying after more than a month to defuse a political time bomb threatening to explode his nomination by injecting race into the campaign in the ugliest possible way. And so Tuesday Obama was condemning, in the strongest possible terms, a former pastor who's been going around the country brazenly defending his controversial remarks and marginalizing Obama as another politician who pretends to be offended by the remarks so he doesn't lose too many white votes.

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle . That's enough," said Obama.

Obama's angry at the comments, the timing and the impact of his former pastor Wright, who capped a high-visibility, four-day speaking tour with an appearance at the Press Club in Washington Tuesday, where he brazenly defended the most controversial remarks in the video clips Americans have been hearing over and over that America's military interventions and foreign policy invited the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. government may have introduced HIV and AIDS into minority communities intentionally and Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan is a great man.

"What Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything that i have done during my life," said Obama.

Obama says he gave Wright the benefit of the doubt when he defended his former pastor, but not the most controversial remarks during a speech on race in Philadelphia last month. But one of Wright's comments in Washington Tuesday was the last straw.

"We both know that if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected. He had to distance himself, because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American," said Wright.

"When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well," said Obama.

Obama's addressing concerns about whether his outrage is real feeling or political expediency because prominent commentators like former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich are raising the question repeatedly.

"He's disingenuous about it. You don't say, 'I'm really separating myself except by the way we were praying as the last thing we did before I announced.' I think Reverend Wright has a greater investment in his own self-importance than he does in Senator Obama's victory," Gingrich said.

Gingrich says that Obama's relationship with Reverend Wright and former 60's radical Bill Ayers reinforces the impression that the Democratic frontrunner is too liberal for most Americans, and. according to Gingrich, that's one reason Obama lost in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. The question now is, what about North Carolina and Indiana? They vote there next Tuesday and if Obama stumbles his psychological advantage over Hillary Clinton may disappear.

Was Obama's former pastor right by going public?

In the opinion of many political analysts, it's only hurting Obama's campaign.

Whether they support Obama or not, many voters want to move on from this issue. Politically, experts say Obama had no choice but to come out strong against his former pastor. Some say the issue will hurt Obama in Indiana and possibly North Carolina. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, experts say the issue may go away as long as Rev. Wright stays silent.

It dominated the conversation on talk radio. Several callers voiced their opinion about the Obama/Wright issue on WVON's Cliff Kelly Show.

Many are hoping Obama's strong denouncement of Rev. Wright's comments Monday at the National Press Club will put an end to a controversy that has been a major stumbling block for the presidential candidate.

"When do we say, 'Let's get over it'? These are two different individuals who don't even have a relationship anymore," said Fr. Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, pastor.

Pfleger is back home in Chicago after attending the press club event. The South Side Catholic priest is good friends with Wright. He also is a supporter of Obama's.. Pfleger says Wright's comments did not surprise him nor did Obama's reaction to it.

"One of the things that is surprising is, suddenly, why is Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright suddenly responsible for what the other says?" said Pfleger.

Political experts say Obama's speech Tuesday was absolutely necessary.

"The only person, in my view, who could stop Obama from getting the nomination is Pastor Wright," said political science professor Paul Green. "This guy is an egomaniac, obviously, when he assumes he wants to be a major national player, and he's using, he's stepping on Obama to do it."

Some South Side voters want to move on.

"Politics as usual, it gets down to what's real. It gets down to health care. Get down to the gas situation. Get down to the war in Iraq," said one woman.

Some voters have a hard time understanding why Pastor Wright is hurting rather than helping the chances of a former parishioner of becoming the first African American president of the United States.

Political experts say Obama must shift the conversation back to the theme of his campaign because the candidate is much more comfortable being on the offensive instead of the defensive.

Watching the two distance themselves from each other is painful for many, such as Reverend Marshall Hatch, who was with Reverend Wright in Washington but supports Obama's speech Tuesday.

"It is unfortunate to have this kind of intimate relational crisis to be in the public square," said Hatch.

It could hardly be more public or come at a worse time for Senator Obama's presidential aspirations. Many Obama supporters believe he had to speak out.

"He's correctly distancing himself, I believe, as far as he can get from the man because the man is toxic," said one man.

Political scientist Dick Simpson agreed Obama had no choice but to distance himself from Wright. But it's the last thing Obama wants to be talking about right now.

"To the extent that he has to explain who he isn't, that is not explaining who he is, and he would be much better off is if he could be back on a positive message," said Simpson.

Some analysts say they believe Obama can recover from this setback to his campaign with the voters before next week's primaries as long as he focuses his campaign on the issues he wants to address.

The Back and Forth

"This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," Wright told the Washington media Monday. "It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."

Obama told reporters Tuesday that Wright's comments do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago," Obama said of the man who married him.

Obama said he heard that Wright had given "a performance" and when he watched tapes, he realized that it more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.

"What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for," Obama said.

In a highly publicized speech last month, Obama sharply condemned Wright's remarks. But he did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. ... But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. ... There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced."

Wright recently retired from the church. He became an issue in Obama's presidential bid when videos circulated of Wright condemning the U.S. government for allegedly racist and genocidal acts. In the videos, some several years old, Wright called on God to "damn America." He also said the government created the AIDS virus to destroy "people of color."

Obama said he didn't vet his pastor before deciding to seek the presidency. He said he was particularly distressed that the furor has been a distraction to the purpose of a campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Load Comments