One of the things we’re learning about Barack Obama is that while he is brilliantly skilled in many ways, he is not especially adept. He bought himself weeks of trouble he didn’t need by refusing to repudiate Jeremiah Wright before today, and there are reasons to think he repudiated him in the worst possible way. It seems like a crass political move, a desperation play, rather than what it might have seemed like when the Wright problem first surfaced for real, as the principled act by someone deeply pained to be forced into renouncing someone who had meant so much to him.
It may be that Obama came to believe he could talk his way out of anything, and he did not want to disavow Wright — not, it would be my guess, because he loves him so dearly but because he understands that the kind of energy generated by Wright and the Wrights of this country has done him a great deal of good over the past few months and he didn’t want to jeopardize it. Which would be another mark of his political short-sightedness. As the Democratic frontrunner, Obama should have begun to pivot to the center, and the perfect moment for doing that would have been to kick Wright to the curb weeks before the Pennsylvania primary. Instead, he has allowed Hillary Clinton to become the candidate of the Democratic center.
I still suspect it’s just too late for Hillary, and I think the Wright crisis has broken too early for it to play an important role in November. But Obama is demonstrating he has problematic political instincts, and that is a liability that John McCain (whose own political instincts aren’t the greatest either) can exploit.