Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"Shadow of Wright Still Hangs over Obama Campaign"

James Joyner (Outside the Beltway):

A piece in today’s WSJ argues that “there is evidence of lingering damage” to Barack Obama from the controversy over pastor Jeremiah Wright’s videotaped tirades. The evidence is, to put it mildly, thin.

“It has not been defused,” says David Parker, a North Carolina Democratic Party official and unpledged superdelegate. He says his worries about Republicans questioning Sen. Obama’s patriotism prompted him to raise the issue of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.’s remarks in conversations with both the Obama and Clinton campaigns. “I’m concerned about seeing Willie Horton ads during the general election,” Mr. Parker says, referring to campaign ads that Republicans widely credited for helping defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988.

So, one guy nobody’s ever heard of is worried about some ads that might run? And then there’s this:

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Clinton had a 48% to 40% lead against Sen. McCain while Sen. Obama was ahead 43% to 39%. The polls credit Sen. Clinton’s advantage to her strength among white voters. No Democrat has won the presidency with a majority of white voters since 1964, and no president from either party has been elected without winning two of the three swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida since 1960. In those three states, some 23% of white Democrats would defect to Sen. McCain in a matchup with Sen. Obama, compared with 11% who would abandon Sen. Clinton, according to the Quinnipiac polls.

“It’s a reasonable assumption that … part of that drop-off among white voters would result from his pastor’s notoriety,” says Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.

Or that Wright’s remarks give credence to reluctance to vote for a black guy? But, again, that’s pretty weak. Despite polls showing that most people aren’t even aware of the controversy — and Obama’s national lead over Clinton continuing to grow — the story won’t die.

Lawrence Korb and Ian Moss had an interesting op-ed last week in the Chicago Tribune which tells, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story:

In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the Marines.

In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.)

The man did so well in corpsman school that he was the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the Navy’s premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief’s medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery. For his service on the team, which he left in 1967, the White House awarded him three letters of commendation.

As they reveal by and by — and you’ve likely guessed given the context — they’re talking about Wright. Korb and Moss contrast his service with the avoidance of same by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney and ask, “Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something or those who merely talk about their love of the country?”

That strikes me as a silly conclusion, as there are all manner of ways to serve. And, surely, eight years as commander-in-chief (in the cases of Clinton and Bush) and four years as SECDEF and another eight at VP (in the case of Cheney) counts as national service. But the smaller point — that Wright’s story is a more complicated than a few moments of video would lead you to believe — is worth factoring into the equation.

I find the Wright story interesting. And the fact that Obama has seen him as a mentor all these years probably means that he, too, is more complicated than his well crafted public image. But I don’t see this brouhaha being a decisive factor in who becomes our next president.

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