EVEN before the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fiery sermons from years ago became a YouTube sensation, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign treated his former pastor a little like a crazy uncle who shows up at family functions with a wild tie and mismatched socks.
When questions about Senator Obama's relationship with Mr. Wright emerged earlier this year, the candidate responded with his much-lauded speech on race in Philadelphia. Without denouncing the minister personally, the senator suggested the anger his former pastor expressed was a product of an older generation's struggles against racism. It was a deft move, but it didn't fully address the concerns of critics who wondered why the senator didn't just leave the church.
Now Mr. Wright has sought a greater public spotlight in an interview last Friday on PBS, an address Sunday to the NAACP in Detroit, and an appearance Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Without missing a beat, he expressed outrageous and ignorant opinions, including the idea that the government created AIDS to exterminate black people, that black children have a different way of learning, and that criticisms of his sermons were really veiled attacks on the black church.
On Tuesday, in a hastily called press conference, Senator Obama did what he should have done weeks ago: He denounced Mr. Wright unequivocally.
"His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but they also give comfort to those that prey on hate and, I believe, do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church," the senator declared. "They certainly do not accurately portray my values and beliefs. If Reverend Wright thinks that is political posturing on my part, he does not know me very well."
Some will fault Senator Obama for waiting to push Mr. Wright off the stage. Others will consider it unseemly that he denounced his former pastor at all.
The truth is Mr. Wright has been indifferent to Senator Obama's political vulnerability. His rhetoric is embarrassing and self-aggrandizing at a time when the senator is reaching out to voters of all colors and faiths. Many continue to equate Mr. Wright's views with the candidate's, so the break was inevitable - and necessary.
Senator Obama made what is undoubtedly a painful public gesture. In a contentious race for the Democratic nomination, the senator has removed Mr. Wright from the list of sins that can be held against him.
Still, don't look for Mr. Wright to disappear from public view. His discredited views will continue to provide sound bites for the Republican attack machine.
Jesus once said a man's enemies will even be members of his own household. Senator Obama probably would shout amen to that.
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