The immediate problem for Obama is that he seemed trapped by the Wright controversy; unable or unwilling to get enough distance from Wright and the chaos he has injected into the campaign. With his performance on Monday, Wright released Obama from any obligation to be either delicate or deliberate in dealing with him. It is suddenly each man for himself.
For interested parties, there were enough sound bites in Wright’s speech to make whatever case one was inclined to make: He helped Obama, he hurt Obama; he defended himself, the black church, “his mama” and the African-American tradition of “playing the dozens.” One could even make the case that outside the context of this political campaign, what Wright had to say was hardly controversial at all.
But, of course, there is no context outside this political campaign, and it was clear that the Good Reverend Wright was determined to defend himself and indulge his resentments at Obama’s expense. When he says it was not an attack on Jeremiah Wright, he meant that it was an attack on Jeremiah Wright. And nothing could have been more dismissive of Obama’s chances of winning than Wright’s contention that regardless of the election results, he would still be a pastor “on Nov. 5th and on January 21st.”
Wright was not intending to do Obama any favors. In fact, it was not hard to read the bristling hostility in his words and body language. But by so clearly dissing and distancing himself from Obama, and by being so openly willing to sabotage the campaign, Wright has set Obama free, at last.
“I do not see this relationship being the same after this,” Obama said, and that may be exactly what he needed.
Now could we talk about that $4-a-gallon gas?
Terence Samuel is deputy editor of The Root.