Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April 29, 2008

     It is not true that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is on the payroll of Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.  It just seems that way.
     The Rev. Wright is, to begin with, a serious man.  The reporting I've seen indicates that he and his church have done a lot of good work on Chicago's South Side.  He is controversial and he is almost certainly wrong about some things as when he claims that the U.S. is guilty of "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color."  The conventional wisdom is that AIDS first appeared among non-human primates in Africa and first spread to people on that continent.  
     But like any black of his age, he has experienced racism and is entitled to be angry.  This is an issue, as I've said before, on which America inches forward;  we are less racist than we were fifty years ago, but no one I  know thinks the problem is behind us.
     The problem is that, as he thunders about America's sins, he's hurting the first African-American with a serious shot at the presidency.  Rev. Wright is having the fifteen minutes we're all supposed to have in which the spotlight is on us and we're briefly famous.  My impression is, he loves every second of his fifteen minutes and would happily stay on stage a while longer.
     But of course this hurts Obama.  Polls all through this campaign have shown that Obama has a problem winning among lower-income, less-educated whites.  And the kind of one-liners Wright so loves are exactly the kind that make these whites scared or angry or both.  Obama couldn't reach those whites in Pennsylvania;  he can try again in Indiana and North Carolina next week, but his old pastor isn't helping him.  And there are limits to what Obama can do about this--he can denounce particular comments, but the Rev. is a man he's known and talked to for twenty years and he can't deny that.  Can't shoot him either--very un-Obama like.
     And who knows?  If Obama is the nominee, the Republicans may sign up the Rev. and send him on a speaking tour--TV crews, his own bus, the works.  If Rev. Wright plays his cards right, his fifteen minutes could turn into a month or two.  He has a shot at it.

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