Commentary Magazine



Today, in a damage-control speech about unity and tolerance, Barack Obama said this:

Most recently, you heard some statements from my former pastor that were incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships, but clearly had — but if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked.

When syntax is that bad usually the speaker, especially an ordinarily articulate one, is trying to hide the ball.

Let’s unpack it. First, it is clear that Obama is not sticking to his initial story that this toxic rhetoric is all new to him. He begins to say that had he only known about the comments (“but clearly had”) . . . and then veers off. Why? Because he has admitted that he did know of some of these comments. Second, he acknowledges that he “knew” Reverend Wright, but of course does not offer any explanation for how his mentor for decades could have so cleverly concealed his views and rhetoric from the unwary Obama. Then, comes the really strange part: “if all I knew was those statements I saw on television, I would be shocked.” That’s awfully puzzling, no? Is this a confession that since he knew more, the comments aren’t so shocking? Or is he saying we shouldn’t be shocked because we have an incomplete picture of the great Rev. Wright. (You get a few “damn America” and “the U.S. caused AIDS” comments for free if you’ve talked about brotherly love?) It is all terribly, and purposefully, unclear.

You think those superdelegates are getting nervous yet?