John McCain has been silent on the subject of Reverend Wright. But yesterday, when the media guns were turned on him over Reverend John Hagee’s endorsement, McCain made an exception. In fending off tough questions, McCain repeated again and again that Hagee’s comments on Katrina and the Catholic church were “nonsense.” Then he finally reached for the sword:
Q: You and your Democratic opponents spend a certain amount of time commenting on surrogates and endorsers, on what they said. Do you think that is in any way interfering with how you’re trying to conduct your campaign?
A: …I didn’t attend Pastor Hagee’s church for 20 years. There’s a great deal of difference in my view between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.
Ah! When his back is to the wall and his own endorsement is at issue, then the Wright issue is fair game. This seems intellectually tangled and politically unfeasible. If McCain only discusses Wright when he’s on defense, the issue (which many contend goes to Obama’s judgment and values) become little more than a cover for McCain’s acceptance of endorsements from questionable characters.
Far better to take a page from Hillary Clinton’s book, who calmly stated in the last debate:
Obviously, one’s choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you’re seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church. But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been intolerable for me. And therefore I would have not been able to stay in the church, and maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that regardless of whatever good is going on — and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church — you get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.
As to the North Carolina ad featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, McCain in a blogger call today repeatedly said he thought the ad was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the “tenor of the campaign we want to run.” But by indicating that he thought Americans were entitled to consider any issue they wished, he left the issue muddled: what’s wrong with him talking about Wright? And why condemn those who do?