Commentary Magazine


Obama Got His Dander Up When Wright Came After Him

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously 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. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)