It might've been strike 3 for Barack Obama, but he knocked the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments out of the ball park in about as clean and forceful a swing as you're likely to see in the World Series of politics.
In a press conference two hours ago in Winston-Salem, NC, Barack said Wright's remarks outraged him, they went against his very DNA, they were untrue, they were opposed to everything he'd ever stood for, they did a disservice to Obama personally, to his church, his party and his nation.
Obama took care to zero in and smash specific claims Wright had made, among them: that the U.S. government created AIDS in an effort to kill black people, that Islam Nation leader Louis Farrakhan was among the most important speakers of the 20th century, that America was a terrorist nation and that he, Obama, was just posing and secretly agreed with Wright. Nothing could be further from the truth, Obama said.
"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday," said Obama, referring to Wright's remarks before the National Press Club. He added that Michelle agreed with him.
Obama didn't act a moment too soon. His timing is heartening to his fans. If you'll pardon the ongoing baseball metaphor, it's as if the bases are loaded, Obama's at the bat and hope is flickering in Mudville. Here comes the pitch. And... gasp! It's the same pitch that drew Strike Two against Obama several weeks ago.
As I wrote last month, when it first became clear Wright would be a major liability for Obama, "You could see it coming from the top deck. Obama's had 20 years to take aim at this pitch, but like Casey in Ernest Lawrence Thayer's perennial classic, 'Casey at the Bat,' Obama let it sail across.... He could've knocked it out of the park years back by leaving the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side, or by asking Wright to resign. Instead, Obama asked the raspy-throated minister to marry him and Michelle and later baptize their daughters. Wright's recent resignation comes too late."
The problem was, this pitch kept coming at Obama. If he was to win the Democratic nomination, he had to knock it out of the park, and so he did just in time. He'd begun sinking in the polls and a confident, engaged and boisterous Hillary was climbing nationally. Such trends are not lost on super delegates. Wright was taking a drastic toll.
Many thought Obama knocked this issue out of the park in a masterful speech on March 18, when he used the Wright controversy as an opportunity to elevate the debate and talk about Race in America.
But while he repudiated Rev. Wright's hateful teachings in that speech, and tried putting them in context, Obama continued to embrace the man, portraying him as a flawed father figure, a scarred fount of good works, and yes, ugly pronouncements, but an ultimately well-meaning mentor who'd done much good.
The problem was, Wright didn't take a bow and go away. He'd been all over the media, and in a bombastic, cocky and defiant speech Monday before the National Press Club, followed by a Q&A session, Wright made new inflammatory statements and stood by some of the more incendiary charges from tapes of his sermons.
Talking heads on CNN, CNBC and Fox were yelling last night that Obama should repudiate such statements immediately, pointing out that no matter what Wright said 10 or 15 years ago on a Sunday when Obama might've slept in rather than attend church, Wright's statements here, now would destroy Obama's candidacy if he didn't act soon. The talking heads were right for once. Never mind the nuances of Wright's charges. Some way, somehow Obama needed to hit this issue out of the stands in a not-so-elevated fashion. Else he'd find himself sitting in the stands with Kucinich, Edwards and Richardson, watching in disbelief while Hillary stole home.
Not to strain the metaphor, but Obama already had two strikes against him, as I wrote in a commentary last month.
Strike one was the ump's fault, let's say.
Obama's a man of color. His middle name is Hussein. His first name rhymes with Iraq, his last with Osama. These are accidents, synchronicities or providences of history, depending on your seat in the stadium. They're not his fault, and in the Field of Dreams that Obama would build, such trivialities would not count as strikes.
But in the cold calculus of scoreboards they matter. Take color. Obama gets support of black Americans. He gets Oprah's endorsement. When Geradine Ferraro says Obama made it to the show because he's black, it's an issue. When Bill Clinton compares Obama to Jesse Jackson, it's an issue. And when Obama's minister Jeremiah Wright alleges that our government created AIDS in order to kill people of color, and when he makes a chant of “God damn America” in a Sunday sermon, it's more than an issue.
It's strike two. It was almost strike three. But today Obama resembled The Natural more than Casey.