In retrospect, it seems like the whole roiling Democrat identity saga was building up to Obama’s perfectly timed and exquisitely wrought exegesis. In a sense, Obama is correct. Simply disowning Wright would be shirking his duties as a potential leader. Over the past few months we’ve been witness to an unrelentingly shameful exercise in retrograde tribalism. This fever for historic firsts had poisoned the Democratic race before Wright’s words were even uncovered. Someone in Obama’s camp (maybe Obama) realized that to ignore this any longer would become in itself grounds for questioning his credibility. Plus, as most people noted, Wright’s words were so far over the line that Obama could scarcely hope to end his troubles by merely distancing himself. So he didn’t even try to. He just claimed a “hopeful” spot within the larger mess. I think the one thing clarified by today’s speech is that the Wright affair will not be Obama’s automatic undoing.
There are some new unknowns, though. Will this episode prove to be any kind of hindrance at all, or will the epic speech it prompted launch Obama into new, untouchable reaches? Where on earth does the identity game go from here? Will Hillary’s camp try to play catch-up and claim to salute Obama’s forthrightness? Or will they rail him for not disowning Wright wholesale? And what new lines of heated discussion will open up in the wake of Obama’s admission that race is still a calamitous reality in 2008 America? With that admission, one important aspect of the Obama fairytale has died. After today’s speech, pundits can’t exactly describe Obama as “post-racial.” He’s made it clear that the coinage was always a fantasy.