With Wright and Rezko, Obama confronted with the needs of fast response

The controversy over comments and sermons of Rev Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor has dominated the news for the past 48 hours (pretty much as soon as the Geraldine Ferraro controversy faded). The story has been driven especially hard -- and very successfully -- by the conservative media, as evidenced by O'Reilly railing against the "corrupt liberal media" and their failure to cover this story.

At the risk of falling into that same corruption, I have stayed away from this topic, as you might have noticed. This blog's purpose, after all, is not to provide detailed news updates of every single event on the campaign trail, but to analyze them and explore what they might mean for the campaign's dynamics. But now that the Wright affair has become such an integral part of the political discussion, addressing it has become unavoidable. If you are not up to date on the Wright affair or on the pastor's comments that started this controversy, the New York Times account is a good place to start. It describes Wright -- a popular preacher with a 6,000 person congregation who goes around the country in lecture tours -- as advocating black liberation theology.

More than anything, it is the closeness of Obama's ties with Wright that are haunting him today: The pastor baptized his daughters, inspired the title of his book The Audacity of Hope, and Wright himself declared this week that he had discussed with Obama the probability that the Illinois Senator would have to distance himself from him... not the best way for Obama to prove his sincerity. Aware of the potential damage the story might inflict on him, Obama made the rounds of cable TV last night, with interviews on Anderson Cooper and Keith Olbermann, among others.

Yet undefined, Obama fails to incite the hatred of the GOP the way that Hillary Clinton does. If anything, many Clinton-haters on the Right probably see him more as the politician who finally slayed a Clinton than as someone they are focused on beating. Worried about this, the Right knows it needs to get its base excited at least somewhat as excited about beating Obama than they are about beating Clinton; otherwise, they could face a dramatic turnout problem in the fall. By questioning Obama's patriotism (and inventing stories about his refusal to recite the pledge of allegiance), it is his image as a centrist uniter that conservatives are seeking to undermine -- and do so fast enough to introduce Obama in that way to voters who don't know him yet. The racial subtext is evident: Wright is being made into the latest incarnation of the Malcolm X-type black radical -- the angry black man -- and that's not an image Obama wants to be associated with in the coming months, to say the least.

Obama is facing this crisis at particularly difficult time. The stories about his association with Rezko have picked up in full force as the trial of the Chicago real estate developer started last week. While the first reports of potential troubles in Obama's ties to Rezko emerged months ago, news is still tricking in, for example in this new Politico article titled "Rezko's role bigger than admitted."

In the common explosion of the Wright
and Rezko stories, Obama is confronted with the need of fast response. It is because of their prodigious ability to counter such stories rapidly that Bush was so successful in 2004; and it is because he did it so poorly (waiting so long to respond to the Swift Boat ads) that Kerry collapsed in August of that year.

Given how (poorly) the Obama campaign has been dealing with similar stories over the past few weeks they have to consider themselves lucky that they are getting training so far in advance of the general election. Consider Rezko, for example: Stories have been written for months about it without the Obama campaign attempting a true push back. It took Clinton's mentioning Rezko's name at the South Carolina debate for Obama to start waking up. And the Chicago Tribune finds itself very satisfied with Obama's defense during the long meeting the senator agrees to conduct with them, but expresses puzzlement that "
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism."

The Wright affair followed a similar pattern. Obama waited for the crisis to explode on national television to address it, when the fact that this would eventually cause a major controversy was evident for many months now. And while he spent his night in damage control last night and pushed Wright to resign from his campaign, efforts to counter this line of attack should have been made earlier.

The unwillingness of Obama's war room to defend itself fast enough was first manifest last month in the controversy over Michelle Obama's national pride comments. The Obamas then let the controversy grow without addressing it, which is the tactic the Kerry campaign had employed in 2004 hoping that the Swift Boat allegations would soon appear to outrageous to stick. But that's not how modern campaigns are working... and this is the surest way of meeting Kerry's 2004 fate. But Kerry learned this lesson late in the general election campaign, whereas Obama still has time to amend his campaign's war room rules.


  • The campaign has learnt at least a little with the Michelle Obama comments - they responded within a few days. Much better than Kerry taking 3-4 weeks with the swift boat campaign.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 14:50  

  • Potentially, the most dangerious remarks Obama made were that he was never in the pew when offensive remarks were made. I'm sure opposition research is, at this very moment, comparing his church attendence against recorded remarks. The Fox interview (interragation) seemed very interested in this point and I'm sure there are other inflamitory recordings waiting to come out. If Obama was in the churh when offensive remarks were made it will be very serious indeed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 15:45  

  • Despite some people's feeling that the Clinton campaign has unfairly attacked Obama, I think the fact that the Wright and Rezko stories are just now become truly problematic for Obama is an indication that in fact, the press has treated him very gently. SNL plus the Republicans gearing up for November may be changing the landscape.

    By Anonymous as, At 15 March, 2008 16:16  

  • These "controversies" have been mentioned for several months and if the Clinton's wanted them out there they would have raised them earlier. Remember the Clinton's have had lots of scandals in the pats which will come up again plus the potential new ones regarding funding for the library, tax returns not released etc - whether they are true or not they raise questions. Just like these two do for Obama.
    Rezko also gave money top the Clinton's.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 17:10  

  • This is a clear example of what is in there waiting for Barack once he secure the nomination. All the complains about Hillary being harsh and rough are laughable. Up to this point the Obama campaign has been masterful, with the assistance of the useful idiots of the press, in deflecting criticism. Every time Obama is attacked by the Clintons, the Obama campaign and the press scram “racism”. This has virtually insulated Obama from fair and valid discussion of his positions. Since the Clinton’s are so sensitive to the racism charge they always back up. Now the fun begins. The right wing does not play by those rules. They don’t give a flying rat’s ass whether they are called racist or not. Hannety has been hammering away at Obama for weeks now on the right issue. The Obamabots might not feel this is important, but believe me it is. This hurts Obama with the voters that he seems to have the most room to make: white, blue collar, conservative Regan democrats. I know that the latte liberals and the young brats that follow Barack dismiss this fellow in the most condescending ways, but they are the key to Nov 2008. All you folks that constantly blabber about Hillary’s negatives just wait until the slime machine is done with Obama. In a nutshell, this has been my criticism of this process, and the reason I have been so despondent. We are about to handle the nomination to a nice fellow; bright, articulate, inspiring and all that! He has gone unscathed thru the nomination process, protected by a media that has blatantly abrogated their responsibility, and have gone crazy on a “boy crush” without parallel in modern history. Just stay tune. Namby pamby northern liberals without a record do not get elected POTUS. They just don’t!!! Shame on Kennedy and Kerry and Dodd, and all those in the party that have allowed their personal ambition and their pettiness to put the Democratic Party on the bind that it will face. Shame.

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 15 March, 2008 18:07  

  • By the way, if Barack Obama had been a white senator form a southern state, would the press have followed this Wright story closer? Or perhaps we have become so utterly intimidated by the word “racism” that we are afraid of discussing any issue that touches race? Are only African American reporters of pundits allowed to discuss African American issues? Will the eminent Donna Brazil comment on this? Is she going to blame the Clintons and then claim she is impartial in this process? Really folks, if Barack was white, would he be even in the run? Was Geraldine Ferraro so wrong on her statement? Before the usual backlash and ad homonym attacks by the Obamabots begin and I am label a racist by them, I must state that I don’t give a rat’s ass either about what any of you think. Just making sure you understand. But if you folks don’t, I can draw a picture……

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 15 March, 2008 18:21  

  • I must concur with the comments listed above. I have always wondered why Obama got into the campaign after just two years in the Senate, and, moreover, why the press was so eager to give him a free ride. Look, I really like the guy and I want him to succeed. Indeed, I want him to be around in the Party for years to come. But he's got to deal honestly and forthrightly with these matters, even if only to swat them down as preposterous. The Right Wing Machine that runs the media will pummel Obama and he needs to be prepared, probably more so than Sen. Clinton, to answer these charges quickly. The ridiculous Right Wing will define Obama the same way they defined the Clintons. It's wrong, of course, but it is a foretaste of things to come.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 15 March, 2008 18:23  

  • I am a big Clinton supporter, and I don't know if I can support Obama in the general election. He is a nice fellow, but I don't see that he would be an effective President. He would have been better suited in becoming a governor of Illinois instead of President of the United States.

    The Democrats look good. They are running against an elderly man whose own party don't really like him (remember Dole 1996?). Let's wait until we get to August, and then determine who looks the best.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 19:17  

  • BHO is done.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 22:40  

  • the original campaigndiaries post on this topic sounds like the only issue here is, gosh, obama needs to swat down these terrible criticisms faster. but that isn't the issue. that's what you say when the criticisms are lies or canards. what we have here are legitimate questions about this guy which raise facts that don't look so great and which should have been vetted & examined sooner. when these icky and legitimate things come out, the obama campaign uniformly acts as if it's "politics as usual" and "divisiveness" to ask these legitimate questions. the problem isn't response speed. the problem is that the stuff that is being aired is itself problematic, and the airing is tardy to say the least.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 05:02  

  • The Rezko controversy has pretty much been put to rest with Obama spending 90 minutes with dozens of Chicago Tribune journalists answering every question they had. The Chicago Tribune has said it is satisfied with the answers and the manner they were given - he should have done this sooner but it is done and out of the way.

    I saw the interview on Fox News with Obama about the pastor issue and again the answers were clear and reasonable. As long as he is not contradicted on being present for multiple occasions where "inappropriate" sermons were given then he is OK. Again he went on the main right wing channel to put this issue to bed.

    Two down, none to go.
    The right wing will always try to get something on him, that is to be expected. There is no way in 6 months that they can get the GOP base to have the same level of hostility towards Obama as they currently do to Clinton. They have had years with Clinton and only months with Obama.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 06:34  

  • Rezcogate, Wrightgate, Weathermangate, Patriotismgate,ect, are NOT DONE!!!!!!

    Barack Hussein Obama is DONE!!!!!!!

    Vote Hillary Clinton!!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 07:06  

  • Weathermangate???? What are you smoking? The blog has a character limit so all the Clinton scandals (or gates as you wish) could not be listed!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 15:35  

  • Anonymous said...
    Weathermangate???? What are you smoking? The blog has a character limit so all the Clinton scandals (or gates as you wish) could not be listed!

    The Clinton's are NOT the issue.......Obama is DONE!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 20:32  

  • Anonymous said...
    Weathermangate???? What are you smoking? The blog has a character limit so all the Clinton scandals (or gates as you wish) could not be listed!

    I guess we are smoking the same thing the Obamamites smoked and still smoking......CULT Kool-aid.

    His supporters are ignorant to support him when he has not been fully vetted....more to come....Change Who Can Believe In....is remaining supporters?

    Hillary Clinton WILL win!!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 20:37  

  • I find it a tad ironic that people continue to spew that clinton has been vetted. I highly doubt this. No one is attacking Clinton like they should be, or as the GOP will. She is getting a free ride because Obama is not about trash politics... once the GOP get through with her, there won't be much left. BILL might be vetted, although that is highly debatable.. they have another 10 years worth of dirty laundry that has yet to be aired, and they are delaying that as long as possible by not releasing their tax returns, earmarks, etc. If anything Obama is more vetted than she is at this point!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 23:44  

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