Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Swift boat down

On Tuesday, a week before primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Barack Obama sent a message to those who privately hoped to use the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a club to beat Obama over the head with from now until November. Let the word go forth, the candidate said, that game is over.

In a speech and news conference that dominated the news cycle all day, Obama took the character-assassination strategy of Hillary Clinton and nemesis-in-waiting John McCain off the table as a way to stop his seemingly inexorable rise to the Democratic presidential nomination and, more than possibly, the American presidency.

“I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed,” Obama said of his former pastor, at a campaign appearance in Winston-Salem, N.C. He spoke in tones that shuttled from barely-subdued anger to an almost painful deliberation. “I believe they are wrong, I think they are destructive, and to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.”

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” he said. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.”

“I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” he said. “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”

“Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me,” he said. “More importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people.”

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The controversial views of Rev. Wright on terrorism, patriotism, race and government complicity in the AIDS crisis— snapshots of which have been a staple good of cable TV for weeks now — got an update, of course, on Monday at the National Press Club. Obama’s former pastor engaged in what Obama, perhaps charitably, called a “performance,” an appearance before reporters that was full up with one-liners, bromides and a fresh recitation of many of the same views that have made Wright problematic to the Obama campaign.

Until now. Though many in the controversy-hungry press think otherwise, and even though the McCain campaign can be expected to try between now and the fall, Obama’s sweeping denunciation on Tuesday — at least his third in rcent weeks — effectively cuts off the oxygen to the Wright controversy.

There’s not much traction to be gained by either Clinton or McCain continuing to harp on and on about Obama’s relationship with Wright when Obama himself has condemned that relationship, in language that couldn’t be clearer or less ambiguous.

And in ways the candidate would be too polite to admit, Obama’s frank statements are a throwdown to the mainstream media, a call for them to elevate their game about the pertinence of the Wright non-issue to the lives of everyday people, and to fully acknowledge Obama’s clear separation from Wright and the disquieting controversy in his wake.

Going forward, Obama seemed to say, the MSM’s handling of the Wright stuff will say as much about the media as about Wright or the candidate.

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Ironically, the MSM spin may not matter anyway. Obama’s remarks were posted to YouTube almost as soon as he said them — verbatim, no spin, straight no chaser. Reasonable minds in the blogosphere by the millions may come to the conclusion that there’s no there there anymore, that the little corrosive presence the Wright matter once had has dissipated nationally … as it almost certainly has as a burning issue for the people of Indiana and North Carolina.

Obama, the most politically astute champion of communication technology in the nation’s history, benefits from an irony common to the Information Age: His campaign may get out of the doldrums thanks to one video loop replacing another in the national mediascape.

But this was more than a soundbite moment: Obama finally responded to the protracted swift-boat attack on his character with a statement of overwhelming return fire, soundly rejecting attempts to marginalize him as a candidate by race and culture, and resetting his campaign's focus, for now anyway, on the business of mounting a transcendent presidential campaign.

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